Soccer, football, footie. Whatever you prefer to call this sport, there is one thing that binds everyone who watches it: a passion so globally felt that there is no comparison.
Soccer is undeniably the world’s biggest sport in terms of active players, global audience and money involved. Thus, it comes as no huge surprise that sooner or later a watch brand was going to invest deeply into this sport.
The brand currently taking soccer by storm is Hublot, led by marketing genius Jean-Claude Biver. He has been at the helm for just ten years, but in that short time has turned Hublot into a global phenomenon.
Hublot has now invested thoroughly into professional soccer, sponsoring prestigious teams, hero-worshipped ambassadors and the crown jewel of the sport: FIFA’s World Cup.
All in the name of making a luxury watch brand a household name.
This begs the question as to why no other brand has apparently thought of this strategy yet. Sure, other brands have associated themselves with various players and teams, but none have dominated the field so strongly as Hublot. Or reached this far into their wallets to achieve this level of penetration. Which answers the question itself.
“But,” I ask Biver, as I attend the opening of Hublot’s 70th monobrand boutique on the famed Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, “Isn’t reaching such a mass audience through such a mainstream sport a little counterproductive for a luxury watch brand? Won’t it change the feel of it?”
As we sit to talk about this and other soccer-related subjects in the 70-square-meter boutique decorated with pop art à la Romero Britto, custom lighting accessories made in Murano, and handmade Italian leather sofas, Biver smiles as he says, “The brand did 26 million Swiss francs in 2004, and now we do half a billion. In just 10 years. So we must be doing something right.”
“But,” I continue, “Why football?”
I note with some amusement that the atmosphere has become decidedly euphoric on this balmy early summer evening. The invited guests buzz with anticipation, and then he appears: Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland’s most famous soccer player and brand-new Hublot ambassador.
And it is this palpable charge of energy that demonstrates the answer. “If we meet our customer at each of his experiences, each of his activities, then he will get an impression – just an impression – that Hublot belongs to his world because he sees Hublot wherever he goes,” Biver answers, demonstrating the apparent ease with which he can turn a niche Swiss watch brand into a global player.
“When you buy such a product, it must fit your personality, or at least your lifestyle. You will not spend so much money to buy something that doesn’t fit your lifestyle,” he continues as Shaqiri gives interviews to Swiss television reporters in the chair next to us. “If the customer gets the impression that Hublot belongs to his lifestyle, then we have nearly won that customer.”
Shaqiri revels in the atmosphere; the 22-year-old appears relaxed and confident even though he is due to leave for Brazil and his first participation in the Mecca of the soccer world – the World Cup – the very next morning. He doesn’t shy away from autograph and selfie requests; in fact he appears to welcome them.
Then Biver asks him to help cut the ribbon in front of the boutique colorfully decorated with green plastic grass, a life-size cow and pillars of bubbling fondue geographically located on the poshest street in Switzerland’s largest – and most glamorous – city.
Official duty completed, Shaqiri explains that he was an Hublot customer long before the deal with the brand for his ambassadorship was ever on the table.
It is this type of event, which fuses a passionate topic with good taste, that has helped propel Hublot’s dynamic growth over these past years, in both terms of numbers and worldwide recognition.
The 2014 edition of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil is yet another stepping stone to the ultimate goal of world recognition as a leading brand. And if it doesn’t pay off today, it certainly will tomorrow as Biver explains. “Who watches the soccer now? Our sons, our daughters, they’re all watching. These are our future customers; we are speaking to the next generation, the future.”
And while the following month will hold most of the world in its thrall, keeping them glued to televisions and soccer pitches, Biver elects to follow the action from Switzerland, even though many of his staff will spend the next six weeks in Brazil ensuring that glass cases displaying the many Hublot wristwatches are in place, timing instruments like the fourth referee panel are performing properly, and that the brand’s hundreds of guests are having a good time.
For most everyone else the kick-off of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is an emotional day; I know that in my house, for example, time will seem to be reduced down to 90-minute intervals for the entire next month.
But for Biver, it’s business as usual: the business of selling dreams.
I ask him, as a Luxemburg national living in Switzerland with a German wife, “Which team will you be rooting for?”
His answer is typically unexpected. “I will be for the organizers: for Brazil,” he answers without even so much as a pause. “Because Brazil is the home country of football. England also, but in Brazil football is an institution. And in that sense, I think when the host is Brazil and when they have such an emotion for football, I wish them the best of luck in winning.”