Watches. “You either love them or you don’t care,” said Ronan Keating, sitting back on an overstuffed armchair in the library of IWC Schaffhausen’s new downtown boutique.
Keating cares. In fact, he gushes, unable to tame his passion for luxury watches. An Irish pop star and a former member of the 1990s boy band Boyzone, Keating is one of IWC’s many celebrity endorsers. He and Chief Executive Officer George Kern came to Beirut to open the brand’s new boutique in Beirut Souks on August 26, where the singer explained how he and Kern travel the world opening IWC boutiques.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store. This is something I have a passion for and I love watches,” he said. His prominent presence throughout the opening event highlighted the importance brands place on selecting an appropriate celebrity endorser; the right choice can lend credibility to a brand or even make it a household name, but the wrong one can sully its reputation.
At first Keating might seem like an odd choice; while he is not a completely unrecognizable figure outside the British Isles, his fame is somewhat localized to that northwestern edge of Europe. But IWC says it has a different strategy than other brands when it comes to its celebrity “family.”
“George didn’t have to convince us and start waving money in front of us, it’s not about that with the brand,” said Keating. “It’s a passion that we all share together.” Invited to become a brand representative when Kern saw him performing on Swiss television wearing an IWC watch, Keating is just one of many big names recruited to represent the brand in recent years. Other celebrities wrapping IWC around their wrists include Australian actress Cate Blanchett, French actor Jean Reno, French footballer Zenidine Zidane, Australian model Elle Macpherson and American actor Kevin Spacey.
Celebrity endorsements, the cornerstone of luxury watch advertising, can cost millions. The values of individual contracts are kept under lock and key and often vary greatly from company to company, star to star, but they rarely come cheap. Keating then, having recently been present at IWC’s openings in Kuala Lumpur and Vietnam, represents a significant strategic investment.
Building a brand is a complicated process, said Kern. “Millions of elements come together — advertizing, PR strategy, corporate social responsibility strategy, the way you decorate or the way you design stores.” When all the elements present at the boutique’s launch in Beirut Souks are scrutinized together, Keating’s presence fits like a gear in a precisely tuned timepiece.
The opening featured the usual fare of hors d’oevres, champagne and branded miniature cakes. But after the ribbon cutting with Kern, Keating and members of the Atamian family, IWC’s Lebanese partners, Keating played a short, lighthearted acoustic set. Suddenly, the boutique’s styling, the utilitarian elegance of the watches and the music all blended with a melodic harmony.
Sure, the casual asides Keating tossed to the crowd during his set to profess his undying enchantment for IWC watches may have seemed a little over-the-top, but Keating’s limited local star power meant that he could walk through the crowd without needing security and without the usual surrounding wall of photographers. He shook hands and met actual people.
Perhaps it is an uncommon choice to use a lesser-known celebrity to keep the vibe light where a big name would shut down the show and hog all the attention. But ditching superstar power in favor of brand unity is certainly a bold move.