February 28, 2018
by David Bredan
Georges Kern clearly understands that Breitling’s clientèle has matured beyond the brand and what may have been cool 10 or 15 years ago doesn’t exactly resonate well neither with their longstanding customer base… nor, interestingly but also unsurprisingly, today’s younger generation of buyers. “We are a bit tacky today. (…) We can’t show fighter pilot girls and bombs,” says Kern. While all Breitling fans may have a more or less different take on where they’d like to see Breitling go, I think we can all agree that there certainly is room for improvement and sophistication when it comes to the brand’s communication and self-identification.
Here’s a fascinating story on one of the countless small steps taken in-house as part of the process of refreshing and redefining the brand. The first week when the new team came together at Breitling in mid-2017, they created a 1-1.5 minute video – sort of an ad, if you like. The twist in the story is that although it is cool and punchy enough to make for an ad better than the absolute majority these days we see from the Swiss watch industry, this video was allegedly created by the team for the team itself. It isn’t available online yet, maybe it never will be, but here’s what I liked about it: it began in the usual Breitling fashion, with quick cuts of footage showing bad ass fighter jets tearing up the skies, the action-ful life aboard an aircraft carrier, more jets, more aircraft carrier, more jets, then suddenly two babes with inadequately zipped Breitling pilot jackets standing next to more jets… and then, static, as if the footage was broken.
After a few seconds of that, a new, different type of video began, now depicting P-51 Mustangs flying in a refined, but competitive fashion, a Bentley Continental GT being driven straight- as well as sideways, a Norton’s bike ridden across a desert and so on. The music was classy and so were the outfits of all the men and women and you could just tell that this was indeed a very new beginning from the ground-up in terms of approach and sensibility. And while it did operate with a number of clichés, the video was somehow still refreshing and nicely put together – it worked, by ad standards, just fine on me.
All this will lead to a “blockbuster marketing campaign” – something Kern, being the marketing-, rather than product-focused company leader that he is, seemed overwhelmingly excited about. Where he was clear cut about the segmentation and defragmentation of the brand’s collections and most all things related to product, he, to me at least, seemed to have been more into the challenges and effectiveness linked to the communication of a different, new Breitling.
“No brand in the world has different logos. Breitling needs a new-old logo and it is, funnily enough, already on the Superocean Heritage.” Yes, you read that right: the wings will be gone. The winged Breitling logo will be gone from all collections, including the Navitimer, the Chronomat and all the others you can think of. As a matter of fact, for BaselWorld 2018, the Navitimer will get a number of small changes – which, cumulatively, I think will condense into a noticeable update. The logo will be updated, the sub-dial colors will be updated according to what I mentioned above regarding styling cues associated with in-house movement equipped Breitlings. While the Chronomat will see an update in 2019, I expect to see a number of mid-year releases after a BaselWorld dominated by the release of a “talking product” as well as those aforementioned updates to the larger Navitimer line.
With the wings soon gone and the major collections receiving an update, about now is a good time to pick up a pre-CVC Breitling (or pre-Kern, goodness knows how the WIS-community will refer to this soon-to-be-gone era). Another reason for this is because one of the big things happening behind the scenes at Breitling is the overwhelming restructuring of the brand’s distribution system. While many retailers will of course remain, there will be a focus on mono-brand boutiques – soon to be called and accordingly styled like “lofts.” This is more than likely to not only help bring prices down, but will also largely eliminate the grey market, thanks to a pretty much exclusively brand-owned distribution system. So if you are counting on big discounts, think again and/or act fast on the outgoing models. I am happy for Breitling if they can largely eliminate the grey market and lower prices – but actually realize said lower MSRP. There really is no need, nor space to go into this discussion here.
As a final point on this topic, Breitling is doing a major re-design of its mono-brand stores as well as store-in-store points of sale. The boutiques will be “lofts” in the sense that they will be a more welcoming and casual retail space where, in their hopes, people will be able to look at and buy watches in a more relaxed, homely fashion. The first of this new type of boutiques has been recently opened in Zermatt but, of course, many more are to come.
As I said at the start of this article, Breitling may on the surface appear to be a simple brand, but in truth we all like it for slightly different reasons – so your hopes, fears and priorities on what’s to come may be entirely different from mine, and so I’m looking forward to reading your take in the comments. With that said, in closing, humor me taking the chance to share my personal fears and hopes for Breitling here.
My first fear concerns the balance between quality and price. From a couple of years ago I remember relieving Ariel of his Chronomat GMT 44 for a number of months and ever since then I remember that watch as one among the absolute TANKS (with all-caps) in modern watchmaking. It was just awesome in its execution and so while I am absolutely open-minded to seeing how Breitling trims and reshapes its image and communication, I’ll be livid if there’s going to be a drop in quality of execution and quality control as a result of more competitive prices – or any other reason, for that matter.
Kern’s three reasons why people buy a watch today (being brand, brand, brand) sound nice and all, but I’d tone that punchy line down to the brand, brand, brand being the reason why people consider a watch today. It’s why they go into a boutique and take a watch into their own hands or order it online. Whether they actually buy it with their hard-earned money will in fact come down to how the watch feels in and on their hands. Breitling has Guy Bove, the amazing engineer and watch designer (with the misleading title of Creative Director) in its team now – he used to be at Chopard / Chopard L.U.C / Ferdinand Berthoud – and I trust that he will do an amazing job with getting the details right… Unless there’s a level of cost-cutting no engineer could work his way around.
To take a more positive approach, I won’t call my second point a fear but rather a hope: I hope that Breitling won’t go down the Jaeger-LeCoultre way (that I ranted about over here) and get entirely absorbed in its own history; instead, I hope that Breitling will always be a little over the top at least with some of its “Supersports” range of watches (to go with Kern’s new segmentation), because not all of us want to see again what the brand was doing in the 1950s. Breitling, unlike so many others, has a lot of winners in its current range of watches – a lot of winners most of which need a little love and care, so that they are more in tune with today’s tastes and preferences. I personally am waiting for a smaller Chronomat, a case built like a Soviet atom bunker, a bracelet that’s just a bit too shiny for the conservative, and a dial and hands with subtle quality touches.
Last, and this is much in tune with my second point, I hope that Breitling will become more streamlined and more popular as a result – I want the brand to be successful, but I want that to happen without seeing the current, arguably tacky, but ballsy brand go. All this tip-toeing around their vintage selves that we see the other major brands do just seems like winning time against the pressing issue of a lack of direction and lack of courage. So while I hope to see Breitling meet the demands of the larger luxury watch market, I must confess I hope more that it remains the ballsy brand that I know and love it to be. breitling.com