Sunday 9 May 2010

Luxury Briefing: Luxury vs. Action Heroes

Luxury vs. Action Heroes, by Alexander Gallé, originally appeared as a column in Luxury Briefing's May 2010 edition.

Luxury vs. Action Heroes
by Alexander Gallé

BaselWorld, to be frank, can sometimes be a little disappointing...

Or rather, it can be if you're more interested in watch brands' communications than in their complications. The moment you walk through that long corridor at Geneva airport on your way to Basel, all you see is an endless row of ads displaying three-quarter-angle product shots with tired slogans on plain-coloured backgrounds, the only difference being the logos underneath them. None of them really stand out, and very few of them will even try to do something resembling a lifestyle campaign. The ones that do go there inevitably end up complementing their ads with some word-kit-generated platitudes about experiencing luxury or indulging oneself in a unique world of craftsmanship.

There are the exceptions, of course, brands that have understood that people don't buy a £20,000 watch because they want to know what time it is - a £50 quartz watch will do just fine if that's all you want - but because they're enchanted and engaged. Some companies, like Patek Philippe, try to own an aspect of time itself: long time, time expressed as a legacy, leaving something for the next generation, etc. Our own studio's work for Corum, from 2005 to 2009, tried to own another aspect of time: the now. This aspect of time inevitably takes you down the road of "seizing the moment", from which came the idea that there is a Corum watch for every exceptional hero you want to be. Want to become a great statesman? Buy the Romvlvs watch. A billionaire? Buy the Coin watch. A great adventurer? Buy the Admiral's Cup... What all these great careers have in common is that you need courage to take the first step. You need courage to quit your day job and run for candidate, start your own business or travel the world.

Result: Corum is courage. Unlock yourself and conquer the world. Unlock and Conquer.

Nothing expressed this better, of course, than Corum's owner himself: Severin Wunderman, Mr. Courage incarnated. A Holocaust survivor who went to America as a kid after the war, who founded Gucci Timepieces in the 70s, who beat cancer in the 80s, who bought Corum in the 90s and designed some of the most theatrical and interesting watches in the 00s. When Severin Wunderman passed away, about 18 months ago, a huge source of courage and creativity simply vanished from the watch industry.

How delightful, therefore, to have found a new brand that expresses these values with all the more aplomb. And how refreshing to see that it is a small brand, with an even smaller advertising budget.

I remember thinking a few years ago how great it would be if luxury brands could get more involved with extreme sports. Most millionaires today are under 40. Many of them have made their fortunes from dotcoms and cool tech companies. Many of them like to do the kind of sports that'll either make your heart stop or pump more blood to your brain than could possibly fit between your ears. So, you would think luxury brands would be falling over each other to attach themselves to something other than golf or tennis. How about skydiving, freediving, snowboarding, parkour or rock climbing?

Enter Linde Werdelin, who not only make the watches to give you that adrenaline rush, but who have also embarked on a new and exciting communications route: graphic novels. Action heroes and heroines, all sporting the coolest gadgets on their wrists while flying, running and swimming to the Earth's most extreme extremities.

What's even more exciting is the level of interaction you will see with the brand communications over the coming months, until the newly branded site is officially launched. Much of the audience's feedback, ideas for new characters and stories, are discussed openly on the brand's own Facebook page. New pictures of character illustrations and outlines for future stories are presented and discussed right there. Nothing gets a fanclub going more than this kind of open-source, open-minded, peer-to-peer way of interacting with the audience.

Of course, you need an action hero's nerve to do something like this, because getting it wrong when you stand out that much will make your brand that much more vulnerable. The stories will have to be engaging, the characters will have to look sexy and ultra cool, and the content will have to have its own emotional rewards rather than just look like a feature-length ad for the watches themselves. But Linde Werdelin's rewards will be there for years to come, as new episodes come out in time for new collection launches. Walking down that corridor in Geneva's airport will become something to look forward to with all the excitement and anticipation of a kid waiting for the newsagents to open, so they can buy their latest fix of action and adventure.