Forward: I can neither confirm nor deny that I wrote this piece as an excuse to justify why I was spending so much time exploring memes on Instagram under the guise of ‘research’
I often say that one of the things that draws me to the watch industry is following the evolution and dynamics of the world of watches – particularly from a business perspective. I do this through a combination of reading news articles, meeting people, attending events and perhaps most effective of all: using Instagram. My personal opinion is that Instagram is one of the biggest catalysts of growth the watch industry has faced in the last half decade.
I use the term ‘catalyst’ and ‘watch industry’ in broad sense. My definition of the watch industry encompasses anyone in the business of watches; that includes manufacturers, retailers, distributors, media outlets ect. A catalyst in this sense is anything that pushes forward any kind of change within these areas.
I feel that Instagram – more so than any other social media network – has been a significant driver towards the watch industry establishing itself on social media through understanding online marketing, public relations, branding and attracting sales.
So far the formula has been roughly the same for all participants: a series of snazzy photos and promo videos, collaboration with an ‘influencer’ or celebrity and the occasional article insert by a major blog or news site. One thing I’ve noticed however – particularly in the last year – is that that a new variable has been added that affects the industry both directly and indirectly: Memes.
*You’re going to have to bear with me when explaining this and I promise this article isn’t just a showcase of obscure memes related to horology. (Though I was highly tempted to do so)
noun: meme; plural noun: memes
- An element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.
- An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.
The term ‘meme’ was coined by Richard Dawkins and can essentially be summarised as an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. If you choose to view the concept of ‘culture’ as the expressions of ideas from a group of people with a similar set of needs and emotions (I like to call these ‘vested interests’) then you can consider the watch industry and the pursuit of horology as a culture.
The variation of memes that you’ll be most familiar with are macro memes. These are the JPEGs and videos that you see roaming around your explore feed and are the most common media format for horology themed memes. These are the true embodiment of the term “A picture is worth a thousand words”.
The online world of horology was once a place for collectors and enthusiasts to gather and spread serious information but it appears in recent years, it’s finally caught up with the rest of the internet in accepting non-seriousness. That non-seriousness is harboured through meme culture.
The common need reflected in the context of the watch industry is that we’re fed up with a lot of areas and want to pour critique on a particular subject matter: memes are tools that mock current affairs and offer a rebuttal to established status-quos in a heavily consolidated sector. When we need a break from something, we often turn to irony and comedy that make processing information a lot easier.
One of the joys of meme culture is the ability to relate with others of a similar niche interest:
Other instances involve providing critique on design aspects over timepieces (I may have made a few comments about the MB&F HM9…) :
Sometimes it can be sharing gripes over industry practices:
Other times it can be a fresh take towards highlighting areas that can be argued as malpractice – but present it in a tongue-in-cheek palatable manner (at least I think):
The early horology satire pages were founded by industry insiders. The critique and humour was shared among the masses but I couldn’t help but feel that because some of the people being made fun of knew the page owners, the message being spread was more of a private joke between friends rather than pressing humility or criticism. The newer generation are a bit skew from that and that’s where things get interesting as the stake in the game is completely different and so are the content offerings. I spoke to two of my favourite watch meme pages on the matter as I wanted to explore why irony and criticism was becoming so popular. The two users were @wristbiscuit (who’s style of memes resembles a post you’d find on the Onion) and @horological_dicktionary (Who is known for his hatred of Instagram bots and fake accounts). I got the following responses:
“I got into memes because they are funny, and because it’s fun to hide behind anonymity, but most of all I got into it because it’s fair game. Brands have put everything they have into exploiting social media, this is no longer a case of your TV or billboards shouting at you to get you to buy their stuff, they are interacting with people.
It’s fair game and perfectly apt that they should be met with mixed reactions ranging from acceptance and commerce to backlash. You want to walk into the middle of the room and start conversing, get ready for people to converse back, or even to tell you to be quiet as they aren’t interested and we’re already talking to real people.
This is an industry with greatness, mediocrity, and downright unethical activity. I invest lots of my time in appreciating and supporting the former, I also feel I have a duty to call out the latter. Then there is the grey area, which is basically just fun!”
– Horological Dicktionary
“The watch industry takes itself so damn seriously that brands are on the verge of becoming parodies of themselves as outdated companies that refuse to adapt to changing times. They’re bland, they’re stale, and they’re completely devoid of personality. It’s like they’re not trying to connect to real humans. Too often this is reflected by publications and individuals in the culture as well. So I think what’s happening is that the community is taking it upon themselves to add humor and personality to the conversation and taking these things the way they deserve to be taken: not seriously at all”
I feel that memes in the watch industry are still in their infancy – they haven’t kicked off in terms of popularity but they do garner the attention of a lot of senior figures in the industry. I’ve personally witnessed discontent from a lot of marketing directors when talking about certain timepieces being the subject of crude criticism. In a closely-knit collectors community, a few negative words for a small label could result in harming potential sales.
The simple nature of memes makes conveying a message quite easy and they can be spread very quickly. What I find most important of all, is that memes offer democratisation in sharing views and opinions – especially those who aren’t industry insiders of the watch industry.
I suppose my concern about meme culture in the industry mainly lies in the volatility of spreading information over the internet. It’s very easy to share dubious statistics and claims – with there being a few instances of ‘Instagram beef’ taking place between established figures. This in turn can cause disrepute amongst certain circles – for better or for worse. I’ve also noticed a few examples of external cultures such as politics seeping in which can makes the online world of watches a murky place to delve into. I don’t feel that this is a variable we need to be too worried about for the time being, but it might be something to be cautious over.