It is a little miracle that the most reputable brand in the entire world only really offers one product which technically no one even needs. Ahead of Lego, Disney, and Google, Rolex has managed to become an icon living. Such status, however, has to come from somewhere. The Genevan brand being the biggest they have ever been, anything but a steady growth would be considered a disappointment. That is why today we will look at how Rolex used effective marketing to become the powerhouse that they are today.
In a market where individuals spend a lot of money, they want to get something unique in return, and with a production of over one million pieces a year that is no easy sell. A constant influx of younger generations who grew up with the smartphone also has to be convinced of the values of a traditional timepiece from a whole other angle. The brand needed to move from beyond just sheer functionality to impress the modern customer.
How have they managed this? Advertising, advertising, and more advertising. The history of the Rolex marketing genius only really started when the brand started to be seen next to the most daring humans of their time. It is for this reason that the brand will always be connected to the icons of the 20th century.
In 1927 Mercedes Gleitze crossed the English channel wearing a waterproof Rolex Oyster around her neck. In 1935 Sir Malcolm Campbell set the land speed record at over 300 miles per hour wearing a Rolex. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest wearing a prototype for what would later become the Rolex Explorer. And in 1955 the new GMT-Master was launched and simultaneously became the official timepiece of most notably Pan-Am.
More notable than any of those timepieces, however, is the concept Rolex used with such efficacy in that front page ad they took in the Daily Mail with Mercedes Gleitze. Rolex introduced and perfected what is referred to as the testimony concept, or as they are called today brand ambassadors. The idea is simple, you want to promote specific features of a product and have reputable celebrities back these statements up in their own words. It is for this reason that Rolex managed to connect so many of their timepieces directly to certain individuals, and thereby their fans.
As watches were pushed from being instruments to fashionable accessories, the brand managed to adapt their strategy while retaining their reputation. Rolex moved away from talking about their features, which have been proven beyond any doubt at this point anyway, towards trying to be directly connected to the Sports and Arts where they saw their customer base most prominently represented. Go look at any big Tennis, Golf, or Formula 1 event and you’ll most likely be greeted by a wall of green and gold.
Rolex is also the main sponsor of the academy awards and many local festivities which are rich in tradition and filled wallets. What this has done for the brand, and in particular looking at the younger generations, was to become something bigger than just be supported by a few brand ambassadors. Instead of having to cherrypick individual players they aim to take over the entire field.
In the last decade, the brand had to adapt again, as Social media completely changed the face of how we have to understand advertising. In traditional Rolex fashion, they approached the situation with a lot of care, and only really joined Social media in 2013. Originally with just a YouTube Channel, they are now represented on 8 platforms. Staying true to themselves though they refrained from cheapening the brand by drowning potential customers in information and pushing sales. Instead, only high-quality content can be seen on their official channels with sensible intervals. Further, the brand has been an active listener, going through mentions of the brand to see what the customers want to know, and accordingly try to inform them.
In the social media age, we have also been able to see a more acute change of the message the brand wishes to provide. In the 1950s Rolex used slogans such as “World’s first waterproof wrist-watch” and “A Landmark in the history of time measurement” to hammer down the technical superiority of their timepieces. Nowadays their slogan is “A crown for every achievement”. Their timepieces are marketed as a set milestone one reaches in the course of a successful life. This approach has proven highly successful, as their biggest customer group are individuals who just got a new job, promotion, or raise and want to portray that achievement outwards. Following that their second biggest markets are parents or grandparents buying a timepiece for younger members of the family who recently graduated or had an important birthday. This is the arguably clearest example of Rolex moving from changing from selling a product to selling a story, and a very appealing one at that.
In conclusion, it can be said that the marketing behind Rolex is just as good, if not even better, than their actual watches. In a world where anyone can read the time of their phone and quartz watches work objectively better, Rolex still manages to regularly swoon customers to spend several thousand on a mass produced watch, and not having to deal with any buyers remorse but return purchases instead. This was achieved by the careful introduction and use of the testimony concept, as well as a sensitive feel for what the market is asking for. As time moves on and new things come along, Rolex will have to continue to reinvent both their timepieces and marketing strategies. Even though past performance is not an indicator of future results, we are looking forward to many more creative advertisements to come!