In 1950, the marketer introduced its Timex line, containing an innovative yet simple design that allowed it to compete with other jeweled watchmakers. The watch was offered at a low price ($6.95 and $7.95, depending on the model) that was highlighted in advertising along with its durable, "shock-resistant" quality and a one-year guarantee.
At first, Timex was sold primarily through drug, variety and tobacco stores. Point-of-purchase promotions were designed to demonstrate how well the watches were made: Watches were submerged in water or beaten repeatedly on anvils to show their durability. Salesmen even threw watches against the wall and used other imaginative tactics to impress distributors. But although Timex captured 18% of the low-price watch market by 1952, sales stalled.
In 1952, via ad agency Hirshon-Garfield, the company began a campaign in popular magazines such as Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post that featured golfers Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, as well as boxer Rocky Marciano describing how perfectly the durable Timex watch suited their athletic lifestyles.
Some ads attempted to demonstrate conclusively that Timex watches were shockproof, waterproof and dustproof. "Amazing test by Mickey Mantle proves Timex watches are really rugged" said one ad that went on to describe how the baseball star hit 50 home runs with a Timex strapped to the middle of his bat. "Turtles test Timex," another headline declared. Ten turtles with watches strapped to their backs swam around in a tank of water for a day to prove the Timex "waterproof, shock-resistant guarantee."
Other ads reported that the watches had survived such tests as being strapped to the leg of a racehorse, taped to a lobster's claw, thrown into New York Harbor tied to a boat anchor and spending a week inside a running vacuum cleaner. The campaign was so successful that within a year the marketer could not meet consumer demand for the watches. By 1955, 15% of all watches sold in the U.S. were Timex watches.
"It takes a licking"
In 1956, U.S. Time turned to TV as its principal ad medium in order to boost disappointing sales in metropolitan areas and to provide visibility that would encourage the federal government and others to support high tariff protection against Swiss and other imports. John Cameron Swayze, former anchor of NBC's "Camel News Caravan," was hired as spokesman for live, dramatic Timex spots based on the torture-test theme. Timex watches eventually survived tests that involved paint mixers, jackhammers, washing machines, dishwashers, water-skiers, a porpoise and an 87-foot dive off the cliffs at Acapulco. The Timex slogan, "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking," became an integral part of American culture.
In 1958, Warwick & Legler replaced Hirshon-Garfield as U.S. Time's principal ad agency, but the torture-test campaigns continued. When a 1958 spot featuring a Timex watch attached to a boat propeller failed because the watch was lost, the company repeated the demonstration the following week.
Consumers wrote to the company with suggestions for torture tests or testimonials about the durability of their Timex. The torture-test commercials were supplemented by endorsement advertising featuring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin and Mae West.
By 1960, the Timex brand had captured nearly 25% of the watch market. Ad efforts were highlighted by sponsorship of prime-time TV variety specials. A 1962 holiday special, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol," was rerun every year for a decade. By the end of the decade, U.S. Time was spending about $10 million annually on TV advertising. To take advantage of the tremendous name recognition of the Timex brand, the company officially changed its name to the Timex Corp. in 1964.
The marketer also was innovative in promoting watches as a fashion item. One print ad for its Cavatina women's fashion watch displayed nine different watches and noted that "more smart women wear Timex than any other watch in the world." In 1961, the company introduced its first Electric Timex sold at a price ($39.95) that undercut its nearest competitor by half.
The marketer also began to compete with Swiss companies in the jeweled mechanical watch category, contracting with Japan-based Hattori to provide 17-jewel movements that were sold under the Timex name. Beginning with this arrangement, Timex sold 500 million men's jeweled, automatic and self-winding Timex watches into the mid-1970s.
The company's sales success and strong emphasis on TV advertising prompted jewelers and department stores to join grocery, tobacco and drugstores as distribution channels for Timex. By the end of the decade, the marketer was selling watches in 30 countries.
The 1970s were a time of turbulence for Timex, with new management taking over and reorganizing the company around product lines. Internal strains were exacerbated by dramatically changing conditions in the watch industry.
Digital technology was being applied to watches, which could now be driven by integrated circuits instead of moving parts. At the same time, expensive quartz-technology watches were being introduced by American, Japanese and Swiss companies.
Traditional watchmaking companies such as Timex were both slow to develop digital products and unsure about which digital technologies to concentrate on. The high quality and low cost of integrated circuits allowed hundreds of other companies to enter the watchmaking field and sell digital watches at increasingly lower prices. This eroded the image Timex had worked for years to establish.
In addition, the influx of low-cost watches into the marketplace caused Timex to lose many of the drugstores, variety stores and other traditional distribution outlets it had cultivated. In the meantime, a long-standing contractual relationship with the Polaroid Corp. under which Timex produced cameras for Polaroid was being phased out, finally ending in 1978.
Sales of Timex watches continued to be strong, however, reaching a high point in 1978. By that time, digital watches produced with low-cost labor in Asia were flooding the U.S. market. Their $5-and-under price tags drove all American companies other than Texas Instruments out of the category. Working with Grey Advertising, which had been its primary agency since 1975, Timex tried to counter these trends by changing the image of its products.
Campaigns built around the torture-test theme were retired in 1977. National print and TV campaigns that depicted strong associations with jewelers across the country sought to deal with distribution problems. Jim McKay, host of the popular weekly "Wide World of Sports" on ABC became the new spokesman for Timex.
Diversifying the product line
Struggling in the late 1970s and early '80s, Timex attempted to diversify its product line. The company bought General Electric's clock and timer division in 1979 and successfully marketed the products under the Timex name. In 1980, it introduced its Nimlo 3-D camera. In 1982, backed by an ad campaign created by J. Walter Thompson USA, Timex introduced its $99 Sinclair 1000 personal computer. In the same year, it started a HealthCheck product line that included digital scales, thermometers and electronic blood pressure monitors. By 1984, all those businesses had failed or been sold, and the company had been pared down considerably worldwide. Ending its mechanical watch business was part of this process.
Timex executives decided to concentrate on the watch industry again beginning in 1984. In response to the new Swiss Swatches, colorful, low-price plastic watches designed for the young and stylish consumer, Timex introduced and promoted a Watercolors watch line.
However, the company's first serious inroad into the marketplace in the postmechanical watch era took advantage of Americans' increasing interest in physical fitness and Timex's previous sponsorship of runners and the Hawaiian triathlon. The Ironman watch, introduced in 1984, was the forerunner of the 1986-launched Triathlon watch, which became the world's best-selling sports watch and one of the best-selling watches overall in the U.S. for the next 10 years.
Timex spent approximately half of its approximately $10 million ad budget on its sports watch line. Its top model, the Atlantis 100, was unveiled in a dramatic, $1 million underwater commercial produced by Grey Advertising for Super Bowl XX in 1986.
In 1987, Fallon McElligott replaced Grey as Timex's principal agency. In 1988, under Fallon's direction, the company brought back "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking" in TV-dominated ad campaigns, with new twists on the old theme: One spot, which won a Clio award, featured a psychic who was able to bend a fork and curl a key but could not stop a Timex watch from ticking.
In 1990, ad emphasis shifted to print and became more image-oriented. One ad revealed an attractive Timex watch placed in dirty tire tracks. The headline read, "Grace under pressure." Another two-monthlong print campaign that year portrayed people who had survived serious accidents while wearing a Timex watch that "takes a licking and keeps on ticking." With all its watches priced below $75, Timex's share of the U.S. watch market was close to 50% by the end of the 1980s. However, competition in this market was intense, and that share eroded in the early 1990s.
In 1991, Timex purchased Norwalk, Conn.-based Callanen Watch Co. The purchase gave Timex penetration into upscale department stores that often carried Callanen's popular Guess line of watches. The following year, Timex introduced four new watch brands into the U.K.; it also entered into an exclusive agreement with Paramount Pictures to produce futuristic-looking "Star Trek" watches. In addition, the company followed a watch industry trend of experimenting with company-owned retail watch outlets.
The company was revitalized most, however, when it equipped many of its digital and analog quartz watches with its new, patented Indiglo electroluminescent watch face. A print and TV introductory ad campaign revolved around the Indiglo night-light feature and incorporated humor. One spot, from Fallon, depicted a firefly falling in love with the watch's blue glow to the strains of Frank Sinatra singing "Strangers in the Night." When the wearer's hand smacked the bug, the classic tag "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking" was heard via voice-over.
This led to a 30% increase in sales and a one-third share of the U.S. watch market in 1992. By 1994, Indiglo technology had been fitted into more than 200 Timex styles, and Timex was spending a record $18 million to promote Indiglo.
Timex continued to produce novelty watches for the Walt Disney Co. and others into the 1990s. At the same time, the company was making an effort to become more of a fashion brand. In 1994, it obtained a license to produce Nautica designer watches for Nautica Apparel Co. The company introduced the Data Link watch in 1995, at an initial price of $130. The watch was equipped with a wireless optical scanner that facilitated the collection and storage of appointment locations, telephone numbers and other data taken from personal computers, using Windows-based software that came with the watch.
In 1998, Timex also introduced the Turn & Pull alarm watch, touted as the first analog watch with an accurate alarm. The product introduction was backed by a campaign from Fallon that spoofed 1950s TV demonstration commercials and print ads with the tagline "More convenient than any excuses." In 1999, Timex added six versions of a Barbie doll analog wristwatch to its novelty line. It also developed a TMX line of analog and digital watches aimed at preteens.
In late December 2002, Timex Corp. moved its $6 million account to Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, saying it wanted a more fashionable image and more credit for innovations.