Lessons in cultural strategy | Patek Philippe and the “Generations” campaign (since 1996)

ph: Patek Philippe, Generation ad (from: Hodinkee website)

A very interesting article by Stephen Pulvirent from Hodinkee about the “Generations” campaign of Patek Philippe  [link here]

Advertising agency Leagas Delany launched the “Generations” campaign in 1996, turning Patek Philippe into the brand of the watches “you look after for the next generation.” The behind-the-scenes described in the article offer a few important lessons in cultural strategy:

Listen. Tom Delany, head of Leagas Delany, did not rush into thinking how to market Patek Philippe. Rather, he sat down for in-person interviews with Patek Philippe’s potential customers, delving deeper into the actual values and feelings about watch owning.

“As an agency, we believe in research,” says Delaney.“We do our own research and with Patek, this was a part (of it)  from the very beginning. We did one to one interviews with people, often very high-end people who won’t talk in a group setting.”

Cultural shifts are opportunities for differentiation.  The 90s was the era of celebrity marketing. It would have been easy to go big and creative on prestigious testimonials or success stories, as other watch companies were doing. Delany’s interviewees, however, showed to prefer a much more sophisticated communication style, that would speak to them as persons, instead of talking about their aspirational selves. Detecting this shift in perceptions about advertising allowed Tom Delany to identify an opportunity for differentiation.

During that research, Delaney learned a number of key things. When shown pictures of celebrities and famous Patek Philippe owners, potential clients had an almost uniformly negative response. “What about me?” they would remark. “Why do I have to look at other people’s stories and borrow the acclaim of others?” Delaney remembers some of them saying. […] If customers didn’t want to participate in the lives of others, he needed to convince them Patek Philippe could be personal. “Begin your own tradition,” he wrote. Little did he know the line would stick for more than two decades.

Look for the depth and the breadth in your message. With the “Generations” campaign, Delany articulated a message that is both personal and human. Plato argues that our ultimate scope as human beings is to overcome our mortal condition. And that we can gain immortality through our deeds or our descendants.  The “Generations” ads tap into the ancestral need for family ties and generational immortality, irrespectively from the individual’s specific circumstances (purchase power or social status). When you have this depth and breadth in your message, you deliver extreme cultural value. The campaign has not just created a brand identity for Patek Philippe. It has carved a unique cultural territory, lending words and visuals to express what watch owning and making means on a deeper level.

[…] the Generations ads might seem a rather blasé topic, and unimportant to our horological experiences. But for many, they’re a window into the world of horology and its values and a way to connect with the idea of owning a fine watch. They make watchmaking feel personal, and relevant.