The turf wars are getting serious. This time I look at the battle on US soil between Swiss brands Audemars Piguet and Hublot. The heat between them has been on for a few years now. Behind the scenes the fight goes on all the time - with each trying to one up each other. It isn't a battle they publicly acknowledge, but the drama is interesting. Winner, loser? I think in a sense they both win because competition leads to better business and clever thinking.
The funny thing is that in my opinion Audemars Piguet and Hublot have vastly different products. I don't even see them as direct competitors exactly. The real models that are in competition with one another are AP's Royal Oak Offshore collection and Hublot's Big Bang collection. I personally see these as being pretty different, but apparently enough people put them in the same basket. Call it the struggle of limited editions! For me the person who buys one watch isn't necessarily in the market for the other - but given the level of tension between the brands, the competition is real. In end, I think that having AP and Hublot always looking to one up another is a benefit for the consumer. This should mean that the products they release are exciting as possible.
Aside from watch sales competition, the more visible fight between the two brands is with sponsorships and partnerships. Audemars Piguet and Hublot have each been rapidly gaining high-profile ambassadors and partnerships - especially in the US. This battle for visibility was first brought to my attention during the Alinghi team that competes in the America's Cup.
For Hublot, special partnerships are a major part of CEO Jean-Claude Biver's strategy. Focusing only on the world of sports, in the last couple of years they have been named as the official time keeper of the FIFA World Cup, the watch brand partner of the Manchester United Football team, and the official watch maker of Formula 1 racing - among others. The intent is clear, a champion in any sport should wear and prefer a high-quality Swiss watch.
Most recently the fight has moved to Miami. The battle ground is the court where the Miami Heat play. In February 2011 Hublot announced that Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade would be a brand ambassador. Just a few days ago Audemars Piguet announced that Miami Heat player LeBron James would be their brand ambassador. Interpret it how you like, but I think the brands each want to be where the other brand is. They both get great visibility and a great player, but it is interesting to see the dynamic.
More recently Hublot just announced that they would be the "exclusive watch partner" of the Miami Heat. So each has one player on their side, and now Hublot has contracted to get the exclusive rights to use the actual Miami Heat name on watches. Hublot will get their name in various parts of the arena, on the countdown clock, and on the Miami Heat website. Of course there will be other promotional connections as well to celebrate the partnership.
Both AP and Hublot are pushing to see more consumer eyes focus on their brands. The goal for each is as much attention as possible in the American market. The US has long been a perplexing place for watch brands to set a major foothold in, but both Audemars Piguet and Hublot have done admirable jobs of gaining high levels of awareness and customer adoption here in the US. The outcome of these mutual efforts is to have high-end Swiss brands become an increasingly large part of people's focus in the US - a region that for the last few decades has had less awareness of high-end watch brands than many other parts of the world.
While the fight is likely frustrating and intense for people within the brands, I think the consumer wins in the end. It is exciting to hear about each new partnership. As they connect themselves with more high-profile people, places, and events - they get additional people aware of the brands and will also continue to make increasingly interesting watches. When it comes down to it, I still think that watches sell watches, and people will buy watch appeals to their tastes and budget the most.