At just 12 years old, the new incarnation of Hublot – the Hublot reformed by the Willy Wonka of the watch world, Jean-Claude Biver, in 2004 – is what CEO Ricardo Guadalupe describes as “a friendly brand”. He uses the term to explain the army of sportsmen, musicians, artists and models that Hublot boasts as brand ambassadors. “We meet so many people through our different sponsorships in football, with Ferrari, with art,” he says. “When we have a good feeling about someone, when they share our values and our approach to life, we may ask that person to become a friend of the brand.”
The reach of ambassadors is impressive, not least because Guadalupe and Biver see an obvious value in “following their consumer”. Hence, if an Hublot man or woman has a diverse range of interests and is likely to support a London football club and visit the World Cup, go to a Grand Prix or two and maybe own a Ferrari, then Hublot will be there, too, in some guise, giving the impression that the brand is part of that world.
“We have ambassadors at every level,” Guadalupe says. “In football we have the England manager Roy Hodgson who represents us at a local level – in Harrods and the London boutique. Then we have José Mourinho who is so well known on an international level and who we use in our advertising, and we have Pelé who is a true world-class hero. And then we have many friends of the brand that come to our events just because they love the atmosphere and our outlook.”
During “The Fight of the Century” in Las Vegas on Saturday 2 May 2015, Floyd “Money” Mayweather wore the Hublot name emblazoned across the waistband of his boxing shorts. Despite the estimated $1 million paid for this privilege, with over three million pay-per-view sales plus extensive advertising on social media, this sponsorship was highly lucrative for Hublot. But when I suggest that engaging popular culture figures as ambassadors is a clever way for a relatively new brand to grab headlines, Guadalupe shakes his head, saying Hublot would engage in such partnerships even if it had 100 years of history behind it.
“I think it is really a very modern, very innovative, different type of marketing and a key element in the success of Hublot,” he says. “Of course, if we were a very traditional Swiss watch brand, maybe we’d have to adapt, but because we are a young brand, we can do a lot of things others can’t. And we can also be a bit more disruptive – that’s in the DNA of the brand.”
The Face Fits
When it comes to choosing new faces for the brand, Guadalupe says that there is rarely a marketing strategy to snag a personality. “It’s a lot more natural,” he says. “I don’t have a checklist, which leads me to saying ‘this guy would be great for us’. It is more a case of meeting people through an activity or an event. If there is chemistry and we have a good feeling, then we just say: ‘OK, lets do something together.’ We always meet and get to know the person before signing any agreement, to make sure we share the same ideas. A partnership can only be successful if the ambassador or friend of the brand likes the product. With many of our ambassadors, like Usain Bolt and José Mourinho, they are already familiar with the brand, or are existing customers, and of course that helps as it means they have already been touched by Hublot.”
To appeal to Guadalupe, a person must have something more than mere fame behind them; they must have a track record of standing out from the crowd and taking chances. In the football world, for example, official friends of the brand are distinguished by what they have done in their careers. “We don’t take current players,” says Guadalupe. “But someone like Pelé is a legend – the players love him. And if you take a brilliant manager like Mourinho, again the players see him as one of the best in the world. These guys have done so much already in incredible careers and that’s something that we look for.”
When it comes to Mourinho’s recent exit from Chelsea, the football club that Hublot sponsors, Guadalupe says there is no conflict of interest. “Of course it is sad. We signed the Chelsea agreement because of José. We thought it was really a long-term relationship, but you know in sports things can change quickly. But it’s not difficult for us as a brand,” he says. “José will always be a friend, and the first thing that I did when I heard about it was to send him a message saying ‘now more than ever we are with you’. It was important to show him that it doesn’t matter to us that he’s not the Chelsea manager any more, he will have our full support for the future and remain our ambassador. It is in difficult moments that you see how strong a partnership is and with José, ours is very strong.”
So what is it that makes Mourinho the perfect fit for Hublot? “He’s the Special One,” laughs Guadalupe. “He is very creative and has introduced a new way of coaching football by implementing new methods, new techniques, new ways of management, and this is exactly the philosophy at Hublot – to try to be different with products, research and development and events. In this way, I think we are totally linked. I think we run Hublot as a football team, in every position we must have the best. We have evolved over the past ten years, changing players and their positions. You could say that I used to be Hublot’s team captain, but now I am the manager – and Mr Biver is my president.”
The Magic Shines Through
In addition to a roster of famous friends, Hublot impresses the watch world year-on-year with technical advances such as scratch-resistant Magic Gold, with these innovations often stealing the headlines from the ambassadors wearing the watches. Guadalupe, however, insists that this will not see a phasing out of brand partnerships.
“You must have a balance between the different things that you do,” he says. “For us we have always had a two-pronged marketing approach with football and Ferrari being two main pillars of communication. But now we have a third, which is watch substance. Yes, we do a lot of events and have a lot of ambassadors, but we are also a genuine integrated manufacture, and this is something we want to communicate more on. But we have to keep in mind that we are Hublot and we must always be exciting – in our world we must do things differently.
“We have created our own movement – the Unico – and we really want to develop it so we have built a new manufacture. But an in-house calibre is a long-term goal so we are also working on the use of materials. We are known for this and the art of fusion is really based on material development – rubber and ceramic. Magic Gold was a great invention, but you can’t invent a new metal every day. We have different projects at different levels, some can be ten-year developments, others can be two years.”
Hublot is also experimenting with existing materials not commonly used in watchmaking – denim, silk embroidery, metal thread and, as described on page 78, leather. In a new partnership with high-end shoe and menswear brand Berluti – an LVMH stablemate – Hublot has created two limited-edition models featuring leather dials and custom Berluti straps.
The goal of the project, according to Guadalupe, is to appeal to a new customer base, communicating through fashion media and opening new outlets and new support networks for the brand and reaching a new audience. “It’s a win-win partnership,” says Guadalupe. We bring something unique from our side and Berluti offers something we haven’t seen before. We are both excited by this partnership as it gives us different ways of communicating as well as access to a whole new group of clients.”