Guadalupe: I would say that ambassadors are incredibly important because they act as a bridge between product and potential customers – personifying the values of a company and making it easier for people to identify themselves with a brand. It’s good to have a reference in a living person as it is human nature for people – especially the young – to look to their heroes and want to be more like them.
Smith: Not only do I oppose this motion, but I actually find it rather damning that such a proposal warrants debate, since the subtext is either that watchmakers have lost the ability to create meaningful difference in their watches or it means that watches are simply items of fashion whose value is dependent on the endorsement of the most fashionable.
Guadalupe: The most important thing when choosing an ambassador is that you have to make sure they are right for the brand. Our ambassadors are always Hublot buyers and wearers before we approach them. It is important that the company has already touched them, that they understand it. If somebody is not into the brand, or even watches, then how can they represent us? How can they possibly transmit our values through their personality if they do not understand them?
Smith: As an independent watchmaker, you are your own brand ambassador, since the reputation of your watches and their appeal is entirely dependent on your professional reputation. And that is the source of the original watch super-brand success stories. Great founders were, most often, great watchmakers and their legacy echoes down through time. But their brands grew from outstanding watchmaking. Now the house suggests that instead of great watchmakers, we have anonymous watchmakers who rely on a George Clooney, a Lewis Hamilton or a Cara Delevingne to inspire the watch consumer to buying their watches.
Guadalupe: Just taking a person and paying to use their image commercially simply won’t work. There needs to be good alchemy – matching values, matching spirits and they must genuinely like your product. Our ambassadors must firstly have great passion for what they are doing in their own world, secondly they must be successful, because that enables us to believe in the person, they must have a family spirit and they must be hard working. These are the values that our brand wants to transmit. For example in football we look beyond the current players to legends like Pelé – he has won everything, he is timeless and an icon of the sport.
Smith: The public seems to think that, by buying a certain brand, they will somehow be sprinkled with the magic dust, glamour and sex appeal of the celebrity who tells them to do so. But if that were entirely the case, then no independent watchmakers could exist in such a superficial world, where movie stardom, driving (very) fast, or the ability to pull a fierce Blue Steel at the end of the catwalk is more important than our ability to create a beautiful movement or solve a new complication. The surviving watchmakers would simply be those who could afford the most famous celebrities with the best pout and an accommodating wrist. Yet here we are…
Guadalupe: Ambassadors are a great way to talk to different markets and new customer bases. With the superstar pianist Lang Lang, for example, the idea is to talk to the Chinese population, which admires people who succeed outside of China and in Lang Lang we have a perfect example of a young talent that has enormous global success. A lot of people want to be like him – not necessarily in music but in their own world and their own work, to be successful inside and out of their own country.
Smith: The challenge for watchmakers is not to be beautiful; it is to create beauty. It is not to say: “Wear my watch and become somebody else.” It is to say: “Wear my watch and become you.” Our imperative is to create functional beauty that is unique and speaks for us, and is, therefore, its own brand ambassador. So what we’re really talking about here is differentiation and for me, taking a purist’s view, delegating the difference in our watches to an actor, a racing driver or a model feels like a failure to meet a fundamental challenge.
Guadalupe: However important ambassadors are, they are certainly not the be-all and end-all of a brand. For Hublot, we want a link between brand, product and customer. We think it is essential to create a story, a world that people want to identify with. We do this through the watches that we create, the innovation we bring, the sponsorships we have, the ambassadors that represent us – the new generations are touched by this and that’s why they buy our watches.
Smith: That challenge is to continue pushing the boundaries of creativity and technical excellence in timekeeping and I believe that we can continue to innovate and make watches exciting, different and new. Other sectors also continually prove that challenge can be met. The automobile world, which is so often our parallel universe, continues to sell with innovation as its core proposition – faster, cleaner, safer… better. Its brand ambassadors, on the few occasions they are brought in, have usually been involved in technical development – and that is exactly where I do want to see a Lewis Hamilton applying his genius and reputation.
Guadalupe: We have to remember that the watch is always key. If the product is not good, then it will not sell it – no matter what ambassadors you have or what advertising you commit to. The watch comes first, but around this we must create a world to promote and to sell the product, which is at the centre of the concept.
Smith: This debate leads me to an axiomatic conclusion: that the sign of a technology sector’s health in terms of ideas, innovation and difference is inversely proportional to the number of brand ambassadors it employs. Think about it. I also believe that in the modern media age, the notion of celebrity brand ambassadors is becoming faintly archaic as consumers steadily become more educated with access to opinion formers whose value is their very impartiality.
Guadalupe: In today’s world, we have to reach new markets through new platforms in order to acquire new customers and using the right ambassadors is just one way to reach out to existing and potential watch buyers keeping interest high and the industry buoyant.
Smith: For the watchmakers who create true difference, a 21st-century watch brand will be its own ambassador. The challenge for us all is to make brand ambassadors redundant. After all, they are so 20th century…