If there were a fight to be the perfect brand, Rolex could be the heavyweight title holder. In a world where multi-function digital watches cost $19.95 at the local drugstore, Rolex commands thousands of dollars for mechanical timepieces whose basic technology originated centuries ago. The brand is as durable as the Oyster case that holds its components. And it’s one of the most valuable luxury names in the world, at 68th in the 2009 Interbrand rankings of global brands.
As a lesson on how to build a brand, Rolex is PhD-level instruction. They understand the value of brand equity. They understand how to craft a brand promise. They understand that brand experience is directly linked to self-esteem. If you want a watch with a 50-lap counter, three alarms and an Indiglo backlight, buy a Timex. But if you want a watch that that has scaled Mount Everest, ridden submarines to thousands of feet below the surface, or could simply be in your family for generations, invest in a Rolex.
The brand is an elegant blend of tangible and intangible elements. It combines high tech watch construction with inspirational stories of famous owners’ exceptional achievement. Wear a Rolex and you’re wearing at watch that is both an engineering piece de resistance and a badge of success-the epitome of a status symbol.
Visit the Rolex website and you’ll find an exceptional example of brand building via the information superhighway. As the site loads you are greeted by their classic watch dial design. It then invites you to explore how the watch is made and provides lavish video of the various elements that literally make a Rolex tick, from the parachrom hairspring to the machining of the Oyster case to the 904L steel used to build many of its components. (I don’t know what 904L steel is, but it just sounds darned impressive, doesn’t it?)
But what really elevates the brand is the focus on adventure that permeates the web site. Almost any watch will tell time accurately for years, but not every watch owns the cache of world explorers who have traveled to top of the world and the bottom of the ocean and other formidable places in between. The spokesmen (and they are all men) who wear Rolex watches are presented to us as they pursue their own visions of extreme adventures scaling the world’s tallest peaks, marching across the arctic ice, or pushing the envelope of aeronautics. One of the subtle pitchmen, most of whom do little more than wear the watch and look at the camera, is none other than Chuck Yeager, test pilot extraordinaire, a man’s man and the classic rugged individualist that is a common trait of Rolex’s endorsers.
Rolex watches are considered highly collectible, but ironically the best proof of the brand’s preeminence may be the massive counterfeiting industry that shows up on the web, at the pawnshop, and seemingly every other street vendor in large cities around the world. Experts estimate that there are far more fake Rolexes in existence than real ones. The faux models range from laughably bad to imperceptibly different from the real McCoy, but serve as proof of the brand’s aspirational quality. To wear a fake Rolex is to play the imposter, but it can still be a little bit fun and delivers a hint of the what the authentic brand might convey to the owner’s self image.
Other super premium watches are exquisitely made. They often have celebrity endorsers that bring additional appeal to their brands. But Rolex has reigned supreme in brand value and revenue for decades. Whether you own a Rolex or not, you’re likely to know some of the stories behind the brand. Other watches cost far less, and some cost far more, but for sheer levels of brand awareness, brand equity, and a near perfect balance of left-brained product features and right-brained emotional appeals, there are few brands that can go punch for punch with the perpetual excellence of Rolex.