Last week, watchmaker Swatch released a set of new watches in partnership with luxury watch brand Blancpain to a rather muted response. In fact, its online sentiments skewed 17.8% negative after its Blancpain X Swatch watch dropped with online chatter leaning mostly negative in tandem, according to media intelligence firm CARMA.
The Bioceramic Scuba Fifty Fathoms Collection consists of five mechanical watches that are a collaboration between Blancpain and Swatch. They are an interpretation of Blancpain’s most iconic watch, the Fifty Fathoms and feature a fun take on the iconic dive watch. News of the collaboration dropped on 7 September by the brands on social media and went on sale globally two days later.
So far, much of the social chatter that skewed negative revolved around Blancpain, with users commenting that they could not understand how budget watches and luxury ones partnered up together and noting that it was an unusual collaboration considering that not many are interested in Blancpain.
Netizens also shared their disdain for the make of the watch, with comments saying that it was "pointless" to pay so much for a "disposable watch".
The muted reactions come as a surprise considering that last year, when Swatch and OMEGA announced the drop of its BIOCERAMIC MoonSwatch collection, consumers were extremely excited. The launch of the watches saw consumers queuing in the wee hours of the morning not just in Singapore, but across markets such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and many others.
In Singapore, the police were also deployed as consumers started getting agitated and to ensure crowd control. This saw some members of the police force being shouted at by consumers too.
So why exactly did Swatch decide to partner with Blancpain and why was its reception so much more muted?
A potentially strategic move?
According to industry professionals MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to, the Swatch x Blancpain partnership is likely a result of the fact that The Swatch Group owns Blancpain. The group bought the watchmaker in 1992.
"This is a house of brands that has analytically looked at its portfolio, assessing which the Swatch Group can pair together to boost relevance," said Alice Dall, senior strategy director at Design Bridge and Partners Singapore.
"Perhaps next year it will be Swatch x Rado, and the year after Swatch x Breguet, there’s a pipeline of ‘collaborators’ ready to go within the portfolio. And unlike working with artists they don’t have to pay for image licensing or royalties," she said, adding:
This is a collaboration of business sense, not brand sense.
She added that it is likely that the brands also paired up to boost reach and relevance, especially considering that Blancpain has been around since 1735 and is one of the older watch brands globally.
"After all Blancpain is from the elite echelons of Swiss watchmaking, a world where watches are pretentiously called ‘timepieces’, which feels a little dusty in this day and age," Dall said.
This, she suggested, could have been why the response to the collaboration was more muted. "It's probably because the average Swatch wearer doesn’t know what Blancpain is. Omega has been referenced in popular culture for years - James Bond has been wearing one since 1995. Associations like that do a lot of heavy lifting for brands," she said.
Adding to her point, Graham Hitchmough, chief operating officer at The Bonsey Design Partnership explained further that the success of MoonSwatch was characterised as a perfect storm that transcended any marketing plans. It was two brands with their distinct histories, audiences and challenges coming together to create something bigger than the sum of the parts that appealed not just to both brands’ existing loyalists, but to a whole new watch-curious crowd, he said.
"Not only did the collab deliver amazing business for the MoonSwatch itself, it also spiked sales in the original Omega Speedmaster and revived the flagging Swatch reputation. Long queues in the selected retailers and pieces selling for multiples of the list price online stoked even more publicity to keep interest levels high over a year later," he added.
When it came to the Swatch and Blancpain collaboration, it attempted to follow the same approach as the MoonSwatch, said Hitchmough. However, Blancpain unfortunately does not have Omega's brand pull nor does it have a model as definitive as the Speedmaster.
"So the collab starts to seem like a more calculated exercise in brand equity management," said Hitchmough, adding that the price point for the Swatch x Blancpain watch was almost doubt that of the Moonswatch which shed a less forgiving light on its claims to be sustainably produced.
Overall, Swatch x Blancplain seems to do everything that Moonswatch did, but less accessibly and less joyously.
Of course, that's not to say that the collaboration was a complete flop. In fact, even in Singapore, orderly queues were reportedly seen at the Swatch boutiques at ION Orchard and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. That could largely be attributed to the fact that there is still an appetite for brand collaborations, according to Dall. They just have to be done well.
What makes for a great partnership?
According to Dall, a partnership or collaboration needs to be able to complement each other where each brand brings something to the party to make it credible.
Luxury collaborations are another matter altogether, she added. Luxury by its nature is exclusive and scarce. But a brand like Swatch is about inviting people in - and that’s a massive tension that has to be overcome with a true luxury collaboration, said Dall.
"Apple Watch x Hermes was a far more interesting partnership, for example, bringing together time, tech and craft. Recognising that the way we use watches has drastically changed, they aren’t just for telling the time," she said.
Dall added that while there are not too many fixed rules for a good brand partnership, unexpectedness tends to be a strong driver of success as in the case of the Omega and Swatch collaboration.
"It is crucial for brands to be clear about the reasons they are partnering. These could be around access to new audiences, a shot of relevance or a reframing of the brand," she said, adding:
Much like the rest of communications, brand partnerships are a cluttered space so marketer’s need to push themselves out of their comfort zone for truly effective results.
Adding to her point, Mark Teal, chief marketing officer of VCCP Singapore noted that collaborations can be a tool to help grow a brand's appeal by reaching out to new audiences. "If that's the strategy, then it's important for companies to invest in understanding how they can connect to a new group of people and how it still relates back to their brand values and business goals," he said.
He added that a good partnership strategy is when the collaboration gives both companies an opportunity to learn new techniques and innovations by working together. "This will add value to their core customer base but also grow that base by appealing to a wider demographic through a collaboration," he explained.
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