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Editorial - A Swiss Made watch or investment banking?

Editorial A Swiss Made watch or investment banking?

The new choice for Swiss consumers.

Is the Swiss watch industry in crisis? No! You may no doubt find different answers elsewhere, as well as lengthy discussions and debate about various problems affecting the industry, all of varying degrees of severity. Sure, the industry has had its ups and downs, just like any other, but it still manages to export over 20 billion Swiss francs worth of its products every year, which hardly sounds like it’s on the brink.

It has showed its resilience against the arrival of quartz watches, even emerging stronger as a result. It also seems to be coping well with the threat of smart watches, in spite of the gloom that certain commentators predicted. The Apple Watch is on its fourth version and, given the huge quantities being sold, if they really were such a threat, surely we would have seen an impact by now? As Thierry Stern, CEO of Patek Philippe, elegantly summed things up only last week in the French newspaper Le Figaro, “my perpetual calendar chronograph has already lived through half a dozen generations of the iPhone and it’s still going strong”. 

Nevertheless, seen in a wider context the watch industry does have some internal issues, as the recent comings and goings (mainly goings) at two of the world’s biggest watch exhibitions have shown. With such a huge debate raging over the past week, it would be easy to miss signs of a new threat to the industry. It comes in the form of a new poster campaign from a Swiss bank (see photo above) that I only spotted because I have to walk past it twice a day in Geneva’s main station. Since being rebranded from the Coop Bank, Switzerland’s CLER bank has taken the type of audacious approach that seems to be lacking in the watch industry. Gone is the fusty image of pin stripe suits and secret vaults housing gold bullion and money of dubious origin. In its place, Bank CLER has furnished its branches to look more like offices at Google, innovated in the world of online banking (launching Switzerland’s first “smartphone bank”) and dared to talk more openly about money, and finance in general, in a country that had long been sought out precisely because of its discretion in such matters. 

It started its campaign with simple messages showing precisely how much the bank was paying for each of its advertisements, whether online or as what is now known as “out of home” (OOH) advertising, in other words posters. Imagine the repercussions on the watch industry if just one brand took the initiative of doing the same with its advertisements, never mind telling its customers where its components come from and how much they cost!

So far, so good for the bank. But the poster I saw caught my eye because, front and centre, there is a Rolex Oyster tattooed on the model. Why? The accompanying slogan translates as “You don’t have to be rich”, since the advertisement is flogging investment banking services for customers with as little as 10,000 Swiss francs in assets. The subliminal message is to entrust the bank with this money rather than give it to your nearest Rolex dealer. Another advertisement in the same campaign features a lady carrying a paper bag on which the Chanel logo has been sloppily written in black marker pen. 

Ironically, the return on a Rolex might even be better than what the bank can offer. But the message is nevertheless clear and offers the potential customer a simple like-for-like choice: the watch or a nest egg? At a few hundred dollars, the Apple Watch can never hope to compete with Swiss watches as luxury goods, but bank CLER’s daring campaign hints that competition could come from closer to home.