Behind every popular product or idea is a great marketing campaign. That statement is certainly true when it comes to Rolex too. Like other huge brands, Apple, Ferrari & Rolex have become household names. If you were to ask someone to name a luxury watch brand, it is likely they will name Rolex. However, it was not always this way.
As a brand, Rolex had to completely invent itself from the ground upwards, and this took a clever marketing strategy to do so. Although nowadays we may not see Rolex adverts on our televisions or phones, they certainly had to put in the work during their early years to create a buzz around their new timepieces and brand.
How did it all begin?
Rolex is a luxury brand that has always been ahead of its time and are considered popular watches as investments by many to sell in the future. Before the innovations of Rolex, wristwatches were looked down upon and were seen as both inaccurate and unable to withstand practical tasks. This meant that pocket watches were favoured by many in the early 1900s, as that was the style and what was seen as socially acceptable to wear. But, the mastermind behind Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf wanted to change the reputation of wristwatches. And he did! Nowadays we barely see anyone wearing a pocket watch, maybe the odd nurse or lover of vintage wear, but other than that, they are not a popular timepiece choice.
A timeline of Rolex’s best marketing innovations
It seems fair to say that Rolex broke a lot of the norms of watchmaking at the time, and was extremely successful in creating a brand new wrist watch empire that is still popular today among those looking for investment Rolex pieces, collectors and casual watch wearers. As a brand, they even managed to break stigmas. Nobody calls a wristwatch unreliable or unable to withstand dust or water anymore.
1927 – A Rolex Oyster takes on the English Channel
When the Rolex Oyster was first created, buyers were extremely sceptical about its ability to withstand water. It was the first of its kind, so it is natural for people to have concerns over the idea Rolex were trying to establish. To begin with, Rolex marketed the watches in huge aquariums which sat in the front of high-traffic department stores like Harrods in London.
Rolex found that this was not working. They needed something bigger, a marketing campaign to remember. That is why, in 1927, the marketing team made sure that a Rolex Oyster timepiece was on the wrist of Mercedes Gleitze, an individual who took on the challenge of swimming the English Channel in just under 16 hours. She did wear the watch on her neck, as opposed to her wrist, but the impact of this marketing campaign was just the same. At the same time as the Rolex Oyster crossed the English Channel, Wilsdorf started to prioritise a different type of advertising too, a little something which we know today as ads. Yes, he put an advertisement, stating what the Rolex Oyster could do, and has done, next to Gleitze’s testimonial about her challenge. This way, customers would remember the swim and the watch.
1933 – A Rolex Oyster flies over Mount Everest
In 1933 a Rolex Oyster watch accompanied the Houston Expedition, which made its first flight over Mount Everest at an altitude of 10,000 metres in awful weather conditions. The public was beginning to realise that Rolex was not a brand that messed around. They created watches that were able to withstand water, high altitude and extreme weather conditions.
1953 – A Rolex Explorer reaches the summit of Mount Everest
The 1953 expedition to the summit of Mount Everest actually took two attempts to complete. The first attempt was by two individuals, Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon. Their attempt failed because their oxygen systems iced up. However, the very same year the summit of Everest was reached by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the 29th of May. This unusual type of advertisement again made an impact on both customers and the media. To honour the expedition, Rolex released a version of the watch, named the Explorer in the very same year.
1954 – Rolex equips pilots with the GMT Master timepiece
In July 1954 the Boeing 707 passenger jet made its first flight, which launched the new age of the aeroplane. This marked a new era, one where travellers had the ability to cross multiple time zones in hours, before this it used to take days. The world’s largest international airline, Pan American, decided to order 20 of the new Boeing 707 jets to use for travel. You are probably wondering how this is relevant to Rolex. Well, the same year Rolex released their GMT Master timepiece. This was a watch that was able to display two time zones simultaneously, which made it the perfect watch for pilots flying to and from different places.
1963 – Rolex begin to focus on sports sponsorships
In 1963 the Rolex launched their Cosmograph Daytona, which again associated the brand with travel and one of the world’s most famous roads. As we moved into the late 1900s, the need to make such a huge impression was lessening as Rolex was getting more and more demand. The digital age was also making waves in the marketing world. So, Rolex changed its marketing strategy to focus on people. They got celebrities, athletes and sporting events (like yachting, tennis and golf) sponsorships to help promote the brand. You could even say that this was reminiscent of the types of promotion current influencers do.
1992 – Rolex start to sponsor events
You may notice that even today, Rolex still sponsors worldwide yacht races. When they originally launched the Yacht-Master watch, they made sure to be the only sponsor of huge yacht races.
Rolex have always been ahead of the game
The real reason behind the success of Rolex was its unconventional methods of marketing. Wilsdorf was not worried about the reaction of customers, he was just determined to get Rolex publicity, and that publicity is what has made the brand we know and love today.