As retail showcases overflow with lower-price Swiss and Japanese watches, Seiko and Wittnauer want consumers to consider their brands' excellence.
That's a change from the 1980s, when image alone was used to sell watches, opening the door to a consumer backlash and an emphasis on price.
"The whole thing for advertising in the '90s, not only watches, is there's a greater emphasis on stressing workmanship, quality and value," said William G. Schuster, senior editor of .
"If we rely only on price in the marketing mix, we're dead in the water. I want every customer in America to know why Seiko costs more," said Jonathan Nettlefield, VP-advertising at Seiko Corp. of America.
Seiko wanted a strategy that would preserve its significant market share. The company knew it would be impossible to dramatically increase a steady 50% share of watches in the $150 to $300 segment. But Seiko also wanted to boost share in the under-$150 segment, where it now trails companies such as Timex Corp.
Seiko also had to differentiate its brand from the rest of the pack, including Seiko's own Pulsar Time and Lorus Watches. AC&R, New York, handles both those brands and until last November was the Seiko brand's shop.
At that time, DDB Needham Worldwide was assigned the task of developing a $13 million ad campaign to motivate consumers to buy any one of its 500 watch styles priced from $50 to $500.
"Seiko, built for life" is the theme of the new campaign that delves inside Seiko watches and highlights inner workings enabling them to take everyday wear and tear. Network TV, print and radio ads broke this month.
"We wanted to show that inside every Seiko is a better watch," said DDB Needham Exec VP-Managing Partner Mary Lou Quinlan, who as part of her winning account pitch took apart and reassembled a Seiko.
Wittnauer, previously a part of Longines-Wittnauer, is severing the longstanding association with the Swiss watchmaker and so needs to establish its own identity.
"We needed a Wittnauer strategy," said Reynald M. Swift, president of Longines-Wittnauer.
The company will change its name to Wittnauer International at yearend, when Swiss marketer SMH (the Swatch watch parent) regains control of the U.S. distribution of Longines.
After not advertising for a decade, Wittnauer has seen its image blurred with the Longines name.
To relaunch the brand in the U.S., Wittnauer will break an estimated $3 million spot TV, print and radio campaign this summer using the tagline "The watchmaker's watch" by Campbell Mithun Esty.
The campaign will highlight Wittnauer as the only major U.S. brand with a Swiss heritage that's manufactured in the U.S.
The company claims a 5% share of all watches costing between $100 and $1,000, but industry observers question the brand's strength as a result of its brand name dilution and lack of ad support.
Wittnauer's line of 12 sports and dress watches, priced from $295 to $395, will be positioned to compete between higher-price Swiss handmade watches such as Movado and mass-produced Japanese brands, including Seiko.