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Luxury watchmakers, for the most part, are located in remote Swiss mountain towns, where they embrace a long tradition of quality and design. But the growing legions of watch buyers, collectors, and fans are everywhere in the world, displaying diverse tastes, interests, and preferences. Thank goodness for both of them that there’s a platform to help them cocreate.

Instagram has become a prime site for sharing information and ideas related to watches. Watchmakers may be traditionalists, but most of them have embraced the platform’s ability to help them gauge which designs are going to be most popular. These insights come from a wide population of influencers devoted to watches, such as @watchanish. But the old-fashioned watchmakers also have learned the benefits of positing their mockups or inspirations, to see what the crowd thinks.

Although the watch brands make clear that their quality standards will never change, some of them even invite focus groups of influencers to comment on particular design features. Breitling has an established consumer advisory board that regularly provides feedback through Instagram but also meets in person in Switzerland each year to offer their opinions.

Less involved and effortful forms of feedback also are influential. When Vacheron saw that a prototype of its Overseas Everest model, which it had offered to a professional mountaineer to try out, was prompting scores of positive comments on the adventurer’s personal page, it decided to release two additional versions of the appealing watch. When, in a half-joking post, the chief executive of IWC promised that 50 likes of a prototype design would convince him to make the watch, 250 people responded almost immediately, prompting the company’s “first accidental foray into social commerce.”

Although in many cases, influencers focus on big name luxury watch brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe, Instagram also has proved invaluable for some small boutique firms. In a way, it democratizes the market: In the past, the only way people knew of truly exclusive brands was “if  your family taught you, or you saw ads in magazines targeted toward the rich.” But on Instagram, a new cohort of consumers can learn about luxury watches, and in many cases, what they learn is that they might want a timepiece from a boutique maker such as Habring, rather than a more widely known Rolex model.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What features of Instagram as a marketing channel make it uniquely effective for promoting luxury watches?
  2. How can luxury watch brands design strategic influencer marketing campaigns to achieve the best outcomes?

Source: Victoria Gomelsky, “Instagram: A Watch Brand’s Best Friend,” The New York Times, October 22, 2021