Here's why the Omega tie-up was a branding mistake: a former Swatch marketer weighs in
Omega recently partnered with Swatch for the launch of a co-branded budget watch. It was an instant sell-out. But Dominique Touchaud, the former director of global advertising for Swatch and current founder of Shokunin Marketing, argues the deal missed the mark.
On March 26, Omega launched a new collection. The watches are sold in the Swatch stores and carry a minimalistic Swatch logo to legitimize a USD$260 retail price. An Omega watch cannot be bought for under $5000 these days. Think of it as your Fiat dealer showing a Ferrari-designed and built-in Maranello. Ferrari by Fiat. At Fiat’s price. Crazy, right? A pirate move by which Swatch once again makes fun of the luxury watch industry it has come to own and dominate. So why complain?
Sales take off, reminiscent of a past when hordes of fans would queue up to get their hands on the latest Swatch models. Omega might even claim a renewed notoriety. Not your father’s Omega. However, when the novelty factor wears out, the only thing we will remember is that the new Omega Moonswatch costs $260.
In essence, Omega threw a lifeline to Swatch, the darling brand, and savior of the Swiss watch industry / Swatch website
In an interview with Wired, Omega’s chief executive Raynald Aeschlimann presents the collaboration as "a fun project (that) adds some light to an industry that can take itself too seriously". Back in 2018, he also declared that: "We will never do anything that harms the legacy of the Speedmaster. It has such an important history and we have to ensure that this legacy continues. For instance, we will never come out with a quartz-powered Speedmaster in the interest of sales…"
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Why am I feeling some dissonance here? The Moonswatch is an amazing timepiece, incredibly faithful to the iconic Speedmaster: the form, the twisted lugs, the asymmetrical case. The same size — 42mm in diameter and 13.25mm thick. Exactly. The dials, that all carry Omega's branding and the Speedmaster logo (along with the Swatch name and the new Moonswatch moniker). The details are exquisite: the 'dot over 90' detail on the tachymeter-scaled bezel and subdials.
Plus all hour, minute, and chronograph second hands and hour markers sporting Super-LumiNova so they glow in the dark. For sure, it's in ceramic (Swatch’s proprietary Bioceramic, no less) which Omega had never done before. But ceramic can hardly be associated with Swatch or entry-level models. Ceramic has become a ubiquitous alternative to stainless steel in luxury watches (Color Ceramics was even introduced by IWC a few years back).
It quacks like a duck and walks like a duck. And if we played a ‘Spot the Swatch design elements’, this would not be a winner.
Aeschliman even admits that "Yes, there is a model in black and perhaps it could pass as the real thing in certain light". Perhaps. At $260, it’s a bet worth taking. But all buyers beware: Since July 2008, Swiss customs have had the right to seize counterfeit goods found on travelers entering the country: good luck to travelers flying into Geneva and trying to convince the Swiss customs agents that theirs is a legit copy.
I don’t blame partnerships in general: partnerships are a great vehicle to generate interest. Swatch and Omega have different sets of customers and brand associations on their own. The base is right. However, Omega has been wrongly told to become Swatch’s partner here (Omega and Swatch brands are both owned by the Swatch group).
The best partnerships create value for both brands. A WARC analysis defines five possible outcomes:
Unlocking new content creation (partnering with a star designer)
Changing customer behavior
Building long-term brand equity
Reaching new audiences
Fulfilling social and environmental goals (partnering for a cause).
I get what Swatch is harvesting: feet back in the Swatch stores and a sudden sales boost sales from luxury-craving crowds. But something feels off. Just compare this to the Apple I-watch X Hermes collaboration that ticks so many of the WARC criteria. Win-win cannot be just a concept for partnerships, it’s the only way it works.
In essence, Omega threw a lifeline to Swatch, the darling brand, and savior of the Swiss watch industry. There had not been a queue for any new Swatch collection since the launch of the Swatch Skin (the thinnest Chrono in the world, 3.9 mm, 1997, a pure beauty). Swatch’s last collaboration to date was with the ‘Centre Pompidou’...A louder intervention was needed. Omega was just around the corner. It is the most logical business move.
But the way it has been executed does not reflect a sustainable plan: all 11 models are permanent, unlimited in quantity (no FOMO), available at the same time (no lasting novelty effect), and will all be sold online soon. It is the Swatch Group’s absolute prerogative to use the stronger forces in the portfolio to heal the wounded heroes. But I would humbly suggest not to have a cross-over with Breguet or Blancpain next. Not even Rado or Tissot.
Swatch has a renewed relevance. The next partnership for Swatch will prove critical to know if this was worth it. Swatch can do it. Swatch’s core competency is to consistently come up with Swiss quality timepieces that surprise, generate emotions, set new trends, and make the fringes mainstream and the mainstream obsolete. And help me to express my unique personality. Oh, and they generate a lust for buying just one more on the spot. Because they are affordable
Meanwhile, Omega is left frying in the European nascent spring sun with absolutely no impact on sales, bottom line, or brand salience and a marginal impact on notoriety. The manufacturer has delivered a brilliant timepiece with the love and passion one can expect from a luxury Swiss master. It committed resources and a fantastic albeit sleepy image. Most people who queued up for hours already knew of Omega but never thought they could catch one at that discounted price. That’s why they queued. Going forward, the Omega market is still in the $5000 and above segment.
The challenge for Omega remains that its past is desperately stronger than its present. The manufacture became world-famous, aspirational, and popular when Nasa bought (no partnership here) Omega Speedmaster watches for all Apollo 11 astronauts. It was the only mechanical chronograph deemed fit for the rigors of space travel. Simple (pure) looking, incredibly refined (the dot over the 90!) and robust. It’s still in production today and if you have one, it’s a very sound investment.
Omega was my dad’s brand. It is now in danger to become my nephew’s gadget of the year. Omega has been forced down the discount route with Swatch. The real damage comes from the wasted corporate energy and management time to sort out this collection. The duck is naked. Its golden eggs have been snatched away.
Dominique Touchaud is the founder of Shokunin Marketing. He is also the former director of global advertising for Swatch.