As we approach Mother’s Day on May 10, it’s fun to look back at how Patek Philippe first celebrated mothers and daughters in its iconic ad campaign almost 25 years ago. As head of marketing for Patek Philippe in the USA at the time, I was fortunate to have had a front row seat and have many fond memories of a period when the company changed the face of watch advertising forever.
The ‘Generations’ campaign was launched in 1996, not with the line we know and love so well – “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation” – but with the line “Begin your own tradition”. The first Generations ad for women featured a delightful image of a mother, daughter and granddaughter blowing bubbles in the back of a car. Such an intimate, real-life moment had never been used in a watch campaign before. The watch itself, a ref. 4831 was relegated to the lower right-hand corner of the page. For the first time, the watch was not the ‘hero’ of the ad, instead the emotion of being part of a family and passing on a watch from generation to generation was. Also, for the first time, real families were used, mothers with their daughters, fathers with their sons, an authenticity that was important to the family owned Patek Philippe, even in their ad images.
Interestingly, as brilliant as the campaign was and is, the 1997 launch of the message “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation” did not resonate with women at the time. It was perceived as a masculine rite of passage to pass on and receive a watch. Women wanted a watch for themselves, something their peers would recognize, a self-indulgence. But first, Patek needed a watch in its collection that would truly appeal to women, something they could wear every day, to the gym or the office, but also something special enough to be worn to an evening event. Something like the Cartier Tank. Thankfully, the designers at Patek did one better and released the Twenty~4, an unprecedented piece at the time: a steel and diamond Patek Philippe.
In 1999, the new ads to support the Twenty~4 was the first time in the company’s then 161-year history that it created a campaign specifically for and targeted to women. Featuring the supermodel Bridget Hall, the ads targeted a much younger, aspirational woman. Together with the attractive entry-level price of $6,250, brand awareness grew fast and sales were tremendous across all ages. The tag line for this campaign featured the line “who will you be in the next 24 hours?”. It was mysterious, sexy and very un-Patek – just like the Twenty~4 which remains one of the company’s best-selling timepieces.
Advertising Patek watches to women continued to evolve with new tag lines such as “Begin an enduring love affair” and “Something truly precious holds its beauty forever.” These were not necessarily memorable lines and by 2014, the women’s advertising had rejoined the men’s and the now universally recognized line “You never actually own a Patek, you merely take care of it for the next generation” was used in all campaigns.
Women’s interest in fine watches has changed considerably since the launch of the Twenty~4 in 1999 and women now do see themselves as the custodian of a watch for their daughter, rather than its proud possessor. In 2018, when the new automatic Twenty~4 ref. 7300 was launched, Patek’s relationship with women had come full circle and a generation later the tag line “Begin your own tradition” could be boldly used again.
To learn more about the iconic Generations ad campaign read this article on Hodinkee