This article has been sitting half finished for a few weeks now. I decided to postpone it for the sake of exam focus but then decided to postpone it further due to bits of new information popping up which changed my perspective on things. I was struggling to come up with a cohesive conclusion to my points and so I decided to go out for a walk. As I was walking, I received a message saying that Instagram had temporarily disabled my stories archive. It turns out that about an hour later, the stories had returned and for the sake of nostalgia, I decided to go through them see what I had done over the course of the last year – horology wise. In doing so, I was able to look back at all the different places I had been to and all the interactions I had with various bodies in the watch industry. What I saw were unique variations of business strategy and storytelling tied in with the core value of watchmaking. I felt that this would be a great opportunity to amalgamate everything I’ve seen and learnt so far during the course of my gap year into a series of blog-posts that explore value propositions.
That leads me back to the Pioneer Chronicles and my take on Moser’s latest marketing campaign which renounces marketing campaigns of ye olde.
Moser is a brand which has become somewhat synonymous in the watch industry with the word controversy and is well known for what has now become their annually expected outlandish stint. I think the most apt description of the label’s activities was by Hodinkee’s Jack Forster, dubbing them as something of the industry’s enfant terrible. Moser has had a knack of targeting notable agendas in the watch industry, from the supposed prevalence of smart-watches, to the misconstrued economics behind the term “Swiss Made”. The current Pioneer Chronicles shares the same DNA with the ill-fated Swiss Icons.
The centrepiece of the Swiss Icons campaign was a watch consisting of design elements from several highly notable Swiss watch labels and was paired with (what I’ll describe as) an edgy campaign video. In short summary, I think the aim was to pay something of a sarcastic homage to the designs that brought a mass appeal to the name of Swiss watchmaking, yet at the same time makes a bit of a mockery towards the predictable nature of the watch industry. The video essentially poked fun at the lack of creativity in the watch industry and over-reliance on certain marketing clichés.
You won’t be at fault if you’re not familiar with it. Moser pulled the campaign from all of their platforms within a few days of the launch. I think it’s fair to assume that certain parties weren’t particularly pleased with the blunt and damning messages that both the watch and video presented. That being said, I feel that the core values and the lessons learnt from Swiss Icons, were re-imagined extremely effectively in the latest Pioneer Chronicles
I’ll start by saying that I feel that the Swiss Icons campaign was a much needed jolt to the luxury watch industry as a whole. Moser chose to follow through with their values of #makeswissmadegreatagain by taking a swipe at some of the underlying marketing principles which what they believe over time, have eroded away at the value and spirit of watchmaking. Moser’s exact position was highlighted with a statement at the time:
“Swiss mechanical watchmaking owes its longevity and its international renown to its creativity and ability to innovate. It was able to rebuild itself and confront complicated situations, such as the great depression and the quartz crisis, by pooling common strengths, working hard, remaining true to its values, and particularly, remaining true to the product. At the time, little was said but much was done.”
“Today, there is an immense chasm between the humility and serenity of the watchmakers who create these watches and the marketing that focuses on glitz and glamour above their products.”
The Swiss Icons ended up creating factions of those who agreed with Moser and those who didn’t. The campaign was immediately dismissed by some; calling it a mean spirited publicity stunt, whilst others pointed to contrarian and borderline hypocritical nature of some of the points Moser raised. On the other hand, there were those who lauded Moser’s bold actions claiming it provided something fresh to talk about in the otherwise predictable atmosphere that is the world of horology. I personally find that whilst the execution of their campaign may have had its flaws, the message was still effective in targeting a set of underlying issues seeing that there was a response of some kind in the industry. The retraction of the campaign showed that there were brands who felt that their own actions were being represented in the campaign message and inadvertently painted a vivid picture of the current stale and heavily consolidated nature of the luxury watch industry as a whole.
The Pioneer Chronicles heavily waters down the brazen execution of its predecessor, but still manages to deliver the same messages in a much more methodical manner. Instead of going for a pure ‘shock value’ approach, the Pioneer Chronicles is gently eased in with four videos summarising Moser’s view on major marketing clichés.
The first of which (my favourite among the bunch) is the rebuttal over the idea that you don’t own a Moser for yourself, but merely keep it for your son. I suspect this may be a reference to a certain 1995 advertising campaign that flows along the same lines.
The second and third video pushed forward the renunciation of sports icons and the idea that a watch can represent a dream of sorts. The “Zero Bullshit” tagline shows a much more passionate stance on the matters at hand.
The fourth and final video is perhaps the one that best embodies Moser’s activities to date: The forced reliance of heritage. It recognises the cultural tropes that has bought Switzerland to such acclaim, yet at the same time provides a contrast, showing that there are two sides to a coin.
These videos are presented on their online platform, pioneerchronicles.com which host a number of blog-posts that use the same formula of satire and sarcasm to talk about a range of points such as brands turning their histories as cash machines and recognising that luxury watches are expensive.
Why I think this is significant
Moser is by far from the first brand to take the ‘anti-establishment’ approach with their marketing. I’ve featured micro watch brands in the past that have sought to put some sort of light on supposed industry malpractices and clichés. However, these labels usually fall into what I call the ‘pseudo-disruptive’ band which tend to have a very dubious record of following through with their values and the nature of whataboutism usually dissolves away as a forgettable marketing cover.
In my opinion and to my current knowledge, Moser is the first label with ‘significant enough’ industry standing and the muscle power to be able to make such statements in a campaign and be noticed for it. I fully understand that as in the past, Moser has a lot to gain from these campaigns – that is the nature and purpose of marketing. I am not calling Moser good Samaritans, as I believe Moser relies on the shock value to generate the traction to get their message across. However, it is the execution and delivery with this new campaign that makes it seem more justifiable than some predecessors. I’ve always wondered about the juxtaposition of Moser’s display of fine haute timepieces and their wacky one-off timepieces. It can be argued that not all publicity is good publicity and I can’t help but think that there might just be a bit too much going on with some of Moser’s previous exploits and this results into nothing but distraction in terms of brand image, and the products they have to offer. The pairing of the Pioneer Chronicles with a core line of watches makes for much more focused marketing compared to previous ventures.
Moser balances satire very effectively by adding self awareness to the mix. I particularly enjoyed their take on the taboo topic of price, admitting that the Pioneer is a very expensive watch and that you could buy a lot of other things with it. I liked that Moser utilised a blog platform to generate conversation and take the onlooker seriously. In hindsight, I did find the rebuttal of the reliance on a dead founder to be ironic, seeing as Moser hasn’t shied away in the past from referencing the original founder, Heinrich Moser – going so much as far as to launch a series of watches in Heinrich’s original watch market: Russia
In regards to the removal of Swiss Icons, I couldn’t help but think that one of the contributing factors to the campaign demise was that there were powerful watch labels who felt attacked by the messages being relayed, in that they were aware that they fell into Moser’s crude portrayals in some way or another. The Pioneer Chronicles literally opens up with a warning message to those who don’t possess a sense of humour – one would say a very cheeky swipe at some critics.
In all, I think the most important part of this is that Moser didn’t back down from the messages it believed in. Whilst reforms had to be made, the ideology remains with the lessons learnt being at show. It’s another one of those feats of kudos that has inspired me to make my own spin off series that explores how value is being implemented without a reliance on marketing- watch this space (no pun intended)