Bold innovation and high-profile partnerships power TAG Heuer. Amelia Sillard, vice-president for Southeast Asia of LVMH Watch & Jewelry, talks about the brand’s aspirational appeal and accessible luxury.
SINGAPORE (Dec 18): It was the mid-1990s, and I distinctly remember the wave of envy that came over me when a classmate rocked up to school one day flaunting on her wrist the new TAG Heuer her parents had bought her. Back then — and for maybe a decade until the widespread adoption of the smartphone made the time-reading raison d’être of watches obsolete — owning a TAG Heuer made you one of the cool kids. It was what many of us aspired to as teens; a status symbol much like how a Rolex is a rite of passage into adulthood for the society set.
Corroborating my sentiment, Amelia Sillard, vice-president for Southeast Asia of LVMH Watch & Jewelry, which owns TAG Heuer, says: “In many countries in the world, TAG Heuer is the first watch that people may receive for their graduation or their first job.”
But the world is different now. Kids these days do not even wear watches and they are spoilt for choice with a host of other fancy gadgets to covet.
“They tell the time via their phones. Well, we need to re-educate them about wearing watches on their wrists,” Sillard says with a laugh. One of the challenges for TAG Heuer today, she admits, is to therefore remain relevant to the youth. “The question is, how do we keep this connection with the younger generation?” she asks rhetorically.
That is indeed the million-dollar question brands are spending more millions than ever trying to answer. For TAG Heuer, it is about converging the brand with its audience’s lifestyle by being seen wherever its youthful audience hangs out.
“Firstly, they don’t buy what their parents buy and as a brand, we must understand this,” notes Sillard. “Secondly, in terms of communication strategy, we need to take a zero separation approach in which, whatever they do and wherever they go, we need to be there. So if they are watching a match in the Premier League or Bundesliga or La Liga, we are there. If they are following DJ Martin Garrix or Bella Hadid or Cara Delevingne, we are there,” she adds, referencing just three of TAG Heuer’s many global brand ambassadors from the worlds of music, modelling and film. TAG Heuer is the Official Timekeeper for the abovementioned football leagues as well as for many of the world’s biggest sporting events.
“Once we are part of their lifestyle, we are part of their dream. And the day they have the purchasing power, they will want to buy and own a TAG Heuer watch and accomplish this dream,” says Sillard.
Ambassadors, events and omnipresence
The brand does appear to be everywhere. The TAG Heuer logo is perhaps one of the most recognisable in the world of sport. Symbolising and celebrating the values of high performance, resilience, boldness and a daring and pioneering spirit, TAG Heuer’s slogan — and now official hashtag — #DontCrackUnderPressure serves as a guidepost for its partnerships with its squad of athlete ambassadors from football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to the late actor and motorsports enthusiast Steve McQueen.
In the lifestyle and music arenas, its ambassadors include DJ David Guetta as well as actors Chris Hemsworth and Patrick Dempsey. The latter was in Singapore last September, in conjunction with the Singapore Grand Prix, for the “Heuer Globetrotter” exhibition. The exhibition involved 10 of TAG Heuer’s brand boutiques worldwide simultaneously exhibiting 40 vintage watches — celebrating 150 years of history with 400 pieces across Paris, Geneva, Munich, Venice, Dubai, Hong Kong, Sydney and Tokyo.
Such partnerships and ambassador-driven events certainly dominate TAG Heuer’s marketing, and it is hard to keep track of them all. With such a large and diverse team of ambassadors, how does it choose which personalities to work with?
“First, [we look at] the [individual’s] potential to influence. These days, influence is very much linked to social media and so we select our ambassadors based on their presence on social media platforms,” explains Sillard. “Second, [we look at] the fit with our brand and our customers. They must represent the values of the brand; our team spirit, and taste for challenges, innovation and performance. What matters also is how they are perceived by our target customers. Third, we look at their existing relationship with the brand and their motivation in representing the brand,” she adds.
Targeting the Asian market, TAG Heuer’s newest ambassador is award-winning Chinese actress Angelababy: “She has a great following and an extraordinary personality. She’s full of energy and she started her career as a model and worked hard to become an actress. She keeps pushing boundaries and challenging herself, and she says that the power of her dreams allows her to never be afraid of pressure,” explains Sillard.
According to Sillard, China is an important market for the mass luxury brand, which produces between 700,000 and one million watches a year. Of these, about 60% are men’s models and the rest ladies.
Sillard, who heads TAG Heuer’s Southeast Asian business, assumed her role three years ago when her family relocated to Singapore. Originally from France, she first joined the LVMH Group in Miami as area sales manager for the Caribbean and Latin America. In 2006, she was transferred to New York as merchandise manager for Dior, also within the LVMH Group. She then joined Coach in 2008 and spent six years developing the international business of the brand before moving to Singapore for her current position.
“Singapore is one of the main platforms for luxury in the world and it has an impressive density. It’s the only city in the world where we can have two boutiques in adjacent malls [and] yet it still works,” she observes.
We are sitting in TAG Heuer’s double-storey boutique in Wisma Atria and the other store she is referring to is located in ION Orchard next door. Sillard cuts a slim, elegant figure in a navy blue blazer and black skirt. On her wrist is the iconic TAG Heuer Monaco famously worn by McQueen back in the day.
“I love the history of the Monaco that I’m wearing. It has a very distinctive design,” she muses. The automatic chronograph sports a cool blue dial that could not complement her outfit any better and I’m prompted to ask if she tends to select her outfit based on her watch choice or vice versa. “It’s a combination,” is all she says, not baited into the fashion conversation. We both laugh and I decide against asking about what it’s like to be a top female executive working in a world of highly technical instruments and in which the highest positions are known to be dominated by men.
Instead, we talk business. She tells me that the watch market in Southeast Asia was stagnant in 2016 compared with 2015, and is down by double digits this year. Swiss watch exports for TAG Heuer’s price segment of CHF$1,200 to CHF$6,000 ($1,600 to $8,000), she says, have gone down by 23% (as at July 31), yet the brand’s revenue continues to grow. She attributes this to TAG Heuer’s global and regional marketing and communication strategies and strong brand equity — investments that thankfully pay dividends in a slow market.
Smartwatches and tourbillons
In Singapore, the Connected Modular watch is one of the brand’s bestsellers and it is easy to see why. It is a smartwatch when you need it to be, and you can swap out the entire case for a mechanical module for the days when you prefer to go analogue, with easily interchangeable lugs and straps too. Assembled in TAG Heuer’s own workshops in La Chaux-de-Fonds, it is powered by Intel with a Google Android Wear OS — combining Swiss luxury watchmaking and Silicon Valley technology. “It’s like having the option of driving an electric car during the week in the city, and driving a Porsche 911 on the weekend,” Sillard sums up.
The Connected Modular is a prime example of one leg of TAG Heuer’s three-pronged approach to staying relevant to consumers and retaining its competitive advantage in this fast-changing digital world: product innovation.
“We need to continue to be avant-garde and to invest in innovation,” she says. “The second point is accessible luxury: We position ourselves as the gateway to the Swiss watch industry. Third is the perceived value. When we develop a product, we ensure that the perceived value is higher than the price. For example, if you’re wearing a beautiful TAG Heuer watch, people may think it cost $16,000, but it’s actually $8,000. This is the impact we want to create.”
The “accessible luxury” she speaks of is of course the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T — the only Swiss-made COSC-certified automatic chronograph with a carbon flying tourbillon priced at under CHF$15,000. It was a feat achieved at a price point that stunned the Swiss watch industry and drew mixed reactions from rivals when it was launched last year. Regardless, the brand is powering ahead with its innovations.
Sillard hints at more “exciting developments” around the Connected Modular watch and Heuer-02 coming next year, along with more events surrounding its partnerships in the fields of football, rugby and Formula One. We had Patrick Dempsey in Singapore this year. For now, she’s keeping me guessing on who’s coming next.
Jamie Nonis is a lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for all things beautiful
This article appeared in Issue 810 (Dec 18) of The Edge Singapore.