In Parts One and Two of this series, we explored the hidden dynamics behind lousy watch websites like Hodinkee and aBlogtoWatch. In this post, I want to explore the driving force behind their so-called editorial. How it represents the tenor of our times . . .
Selling the unobtainable
Lousy watch websites contort their content to fit the narrative they’re selling on Instagram. That’s why you see so many sites emulating the worst aspects of everything from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to Keeping Up with the Kardashians:
IG users reward impossibly glossy posts of high end watches with clicks. Like a tree turning towards the sun, the sites move towards these users. It wasn’t always thus.
Popular movies from the early color film era, especially the fifties and early sixties, are often shot like a travel promo video. Go back and watch Bullitt or any of the early James Bond films, and you will see lovingly composed and framed shots of exotic locales, or what would have been exotic to a typical audience member in Wichita in 1965.
Part of the appeal of these films for the audience: seeing a part of the world that they had never seen outside of small photographs in newspapers, or, if they were quite cosmopolitan, National Geographic.
It’s different these days. Today’s movies are more likely to dwell on the inside of a high-end club or restaurant than street scenes in Morocco. This makes sense, because all but the most distant locations are within reach for the typical middle class Western consumer. The novelty simply isn’t there.
What feeds the beast these days: Instagram photos of things the audience can’t afford. Someone may be able to take a flight to Phuket, but they sure as sh*t can’t stay at the Amanpuri.
[Side note: If you live in Silicon Valley, you can see all of those things at the same time, along with the best “company” money can buy, on Thursday nights at a certain bar on Sand Hill Road.]
So lousy watch websites are very Instagram and very YouTube and gravitate towards these luxury watches. It’s novelty for their audiences. Novelty equals clicks, clicks equals eyeballs, eyeballs equals money.
Here we are now . . .
Ninety-nine percent of the watch website readers are never going to see a $194,500 Roger Dubius Aventador S watch, let alone hold one, let alone be in a position to obtain one.
Even if a reader owns one or two or three luxury watches, they’re not going to amass a fraction of the watches “reviewed” on a watch website. They’re living vicariously through the “journalist,” rewarding the journalist’s access with ephemeral clicks.
Whether or not these products are actually good or value for the money or anything else is entirely beside the point. The audience doesn’t care. They just want to see something that they can’t see in their local mall or jeweler or anywhere else. Here we are now, entertain us!
Fundamentally, “reviews” on watch websites are entertainment only. They’re intended to be time wasters, not informative. Where a review of a Toyota Camry absolutely could influence people’s decision making vis-a-vis a Honda Accord, a review of a Vacheron Constantin Tourbillon is pure entertainment for a fraction of the audience that rounds to “everybody.”
The mass audience can’t afford high end horology, and the people that can usually do not care about the opinion of a journalist whose net worth is a rounding error of their own. The opinions that they care about are their colleagues, their friends, and potential clients.
Hence lousy watch websites serve as a distraction. Which is fine. The problem: websites wrap this entertainment in a veil of journalism.
Brands and the press vs. critical thinking
Watch websites are engaging in something cruelly insidious: selling their audience the same load of bullshit produced by the marketing departments of LVMH and the rest. The sites’ writers bang on about their so-called independent journalistic standards while they slip in the message that their masters demand.
And that explains lousy watch websites – why horological “journalism” is so bad. All this so-called editorial is advertising – for the brand, for the site – is relentlessly geared towards not appearing as advertising.
People have been complaining about advertising sneaking into other things for at least a hundred and twenty years or so.
What strikes me about this: the audience accepts it. We don’t even blink when brands do this anymore. It’s a profoundly cynical acceptance of a state of affairs that even 15 or 20 years ago would have been rightly called out as being unethical.
I’m a child of the 80s and 90s. I was taught from a very young age to approach anything anybody tells me with a jaundiced eye. To consider not only the message itself but why the message is being sent to me. The motivations behind it.
This is the very definition of the lost art of critical thinking.
Whether it’s politics or “watch reviews,” watching critical thinking thrown out the window is profoundly troubling. I believe it’s better to be a Robin Leach or a Kardashian and be upfront about the transactional and venal nature of what you’re doing than to be a secret pimp. But pimps are what the watch websites are.
Read what we can do about it in Part 4.