Venerable Timex has taken its business from Fallon to Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, New York, where a radical update of the classic slogan has emerged: "Life is ticking." With so many godawful boring taglines floating around these days (Did someone say McDonald's?), we have to admit this one kinda rocks. The "life is a bomb waiting to go off" implication, surely unintended but nonetheless there, seems bold beyond belief post-9/11. KB+P CD Rob Feakins (credits also to AD Demian Oliveira and writer Krista Wicklund) discounts this subtext, but he's pretty happy with the slogan, too. As for "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking," it's a "brilliant tagline," acknowledges Feakins, "but it's no longer relevant. Durability, back in the '50s and '60s, was relevant to timepieces. Today, people expect their watches to be reliable. The world has changed. We're overly dependent on technology, we fully expect it to work and we freak out when it doesn't - witness the blackout. People care more about how they spend their time. They want a watch that helps them make more out of time. That's why Timex makes watches with compasses, MP3 players, Indiglo, heart rate monitors, thermometers, barometers, altimeters and the like."
But at the same time, Timex may have a moldy fig problem. "Iconic brands are great," says Feakins. "But sometimes there's a danger that iconic means dated." No kidding. The Timex name itself could probably be viewed as a liability as well as an asset. Unlike, say, Fossil, the very name Timex is a fossil. That -ex suffix was hip and futuristic back in the days of the '64 World's Fair, when we were assured that in the 21st century we'd all be commuting to work via jetpack. "We needed to make the strategy more relevant but also make the work more relevant, more contemporary and, frankly, bolder," explains Feakins. "At our media budget levels, we can't afford to be quiet, we need to stand out. And in terms of what we're selling - sports watches, fashion watches, heart rate monitors, etc. - there's a ton of cliched imagery. We could have shot a beautiful shot of two models gazing up at the sky at night, checking their Indiglos, for instance, but the reality is sometimes you check your watch to see when SportsCenter is coming up when you're under the sheets with your girlfriend or wife. That's life."
Moreover, notes Feakins, "we wanted a simple graphic poster style to help us bust through the pubs, and it's also an international campaign. We couldn't have idiomatic American expressions that when translated into Thai come out as gibberish. The great thing about an iconic brand like Timex is its earned a sense of honesty and integrity. People feel Timex can talk to them like this. And that leads to Russ. The guy has an incredible sense of reality in our sorry world. Nothing is harder to recreate than reality. So many photographers like to build an artificial world that none of us can afford. Instead, Russ strips the world down to reveal the real one. He also happens to be one heck of a nice guy."
He's modest, too. In fact, Boston-based Quackenbush (russquackenbush.com) shrugs off his Timex work (about half the ads are his; the rest are stock) as just another workaday foray into the real world. "This campaign is low-key in terms of production - no need for high gloss," he notes. "The shots are minimal; if I do use lighting, it's kept very simple and subtle." He's known mainly as a people shooter; any challenge to shooting a bacon and eggs still life? "Outside of the fact that I'm making the bacon and eggs look particularly greasy, not really. My approach to still life is no different than it is with people - straightforward." So too the hairy chest in the "Medallion" ad, which is a real hairy chest, Quackenbush attests. How about the couple in the bed? The main consideration has to be that the guy has hairy legs, or else we might confuse it with lesbianism, huh? "Yeah, but what's wrong with that? Timex might have a concern with that, but I would've preferred to let viewers figure it out for themselves. It'd be more of a challenge."
And, for the ultimate in verite, the goldfish "is really a dead fish," says Quackenbush. "We didn't kill it, though. We actually went to a pet store to purchase a dead fish. We punched a little orange into the fish, though, 'cause when they die they lose their color."