Swatch this space

From a cherubic “Putti” designed by Vivienne Westwood to an Eastertide “Eggsdream”, Swatch launches more than 150 watch designs each year. The company – conceived by Swiss watch giant SMH in 1983 – manufactures 15 to 17 million watches a year. At the heart of this success story is its unique approach to direct marketing.

Although set up in much of Europe and the US in 1990, The Swatch Collectors Club was not established in Britain until 1993. The club boasts 100,000 members worldwide, 3,000 of whom are British.

The club encourages members to buy several watches, reinforces the value of the brand and creates an international link between Swatch fans. For an annual fee of 45, each member receives an exclusive club watch and a catalogue of every Swatch ever made. The Swatch World Journal is sent to members three times a year and informs them of worldwide Swatch news. Members also receive regular mail-shots that tell them about new product launches – to which they are invited to as special guests.

The Collectors Club database has been built using point-of-purchase information, an insert that comes with every purchase and incentives such as Swatch T-shirts and bags.

Collectors Club manager Nicky Henry says Swatch used direct response ads last year, with inserts in both Sky Magazine and the Clothes Show Magazine. But she says this proved “expensive, and did not get across the concept of Swatch as a collectable fashion accessory”.

Henry adds: “In the rest of Europe people buy several watches and wear a particular watch to suit a particular mood. In Britain, however, people tend to buy one watch and wear it until it breaks or is lost. The Collectors Club is designed to promote the purchase of a variety of watches.”

This Swatch concept is communicated, in person, to collectors and potential collectors as much as possible. New members have to collect their membership package at one of Swatch’s 150 key retail outlets. From then on they are affiliated to that particular outlet. The packages are never sent by post.

These outlets carry point-of-purchase information on the club and Swatch provides the store with a PR pack that gives ideas to retailers to help them build a relationship with members. This is often in the form of cheese and wine parties to announce a new limited edition or a collector’s preview evening. At such events, the member is encouraged to bring a guest. This increases public familiarity with the product and broadens the Swatch database. The Oxford Street Swatch store has bi-annual parties for Swatch collectors.

The collection of Swatch watches is boosted by the fact that many limited editions are launched annually, creating a kind of “Swatch frenzy” among collectors, who are told of launches by the company. Rare Swatches have fetched more than 10,000 at auction. Today, one set of watches created in 1988 can fetch 80,000 for a set of six. The Collectors Club enhances Swatch mania as collectors get together and compare the rarity of their collection.

Recent limited editions include one from 1994 when the Italian Pop Artist Mimmo Rotella designed a Swatch Double Special set of two watches. It was launched as a worldwide limited edition of 22,222. Only 500 sets were available in the UK, so Swatch organised a special draw. Applications were made available to the public and collectors through Swatch retailers.

In July this year Swatch organised the launch of new limited edition watch C-Monsta. Only 750 of the worldwide allocation of 30,000 C-Monsta watches were for sale at a large-scale Swatch extravaganza on Brighton beach. A 14-page invitation was sent out to all collectors to tell them about events that were to take place and emphasise the collectability of the watches and how their value would instantly accrue above that of its 50 selling price.

Entertainment on the day included a barbecue, free bar, limbo dancers, a steel band and a tatooist. There was also a right-to-buy draw for another limited edition, Pacific Beach in a Bottle. Some 1,400 collectors and their guests turned up to swap watches and chat and boast about their collections. Both the public and guests of the collectors were told about The Collectors Club and encouraged to enter their details on the Collectors Club mailing list. The Club secured 40 new members on the day.

The Swatch success story continues with the launch earlier this month of an entire new concept for Swatch: metal watches; and the announcement that Swatch is the official timekeeper for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.v

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