Lousy Watch Websites Explained – Pt. 3

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Lousy websites Hodinkee Shop ad

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 - Fratello Instagram

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.

Phang Nga bay (courtesy bodegahostels.com)
Image courtesy bodegahostels.com (click on image)

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.

Hodinkee Instagram

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.

The same is true of luxury goods. The Birkin Bag, the Lamborghini Urus, the Patek Philippe Nautilus – these are all products that people know of, can’t afford, and want to see on their feeds.

[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.]

aBlogtoWatch Instagram

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 . . .

lousy watch websites Lamborghini watch ad

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!

Vacheron tourbillon

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

Audemars Piguet ad

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.

Watchpro Rolex guide

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.

Kim Kardashian's Rolex

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.

Click here to read Pt. 1 of this series: Watch Websites – Why They’re So Boring. Click here to read Watch Websites’ Mediocrity – Part Two

7 COMMENTS

  1. Great series. Looking forward to #4.

    Let me describe another facet to this multi- dimensional shape. Luxury watch brands actually market *primarily* to the “oglers”, those who aspire but will never actually be a paying retail customer. Why? Because it’s not the product – but the *envy* of the product – that makes it an aspirational asset to begin with. Were the object not coveted by the masses, it would not be truly desired by the well-heeled (at at least those sufficiently well-heeled to be a buyer). A Birkin has value specifically because it communicates that you were able to get one. An equivalently luxurious and well-made bag has a home, but it will not be a vehicle for cultural cachet. Open the pages of Los Angeles magazine, and half the full-page ads are watches, despite the fact most readers will never step foot in a Patek boutique.

    • The Veblen good! Ah, it does not have to be unobtainable, but rather has to be perceived by others as unobtainable. But do you really know what goes on in someone else’s mind?

      A Veblen good does not have to be perceived by others as unobtainable, but rather perceived by you that others perceive that it is unobtainable. Hence, Apple places ads to convince you, the potential buyer, that others are convinced that Apple products are to be envied…

    • Exactly. Baruth had an article about this eons ago, I wish I could find it. The advertising for these watches is primarily to remind their customers of their status and help them establish that status with others. Why else would Rolex spend money advertising watches that are sold out five years from now?

  2. This series of articles is like a longform site mission statement, in a good way. The mass promotion of niche luxury products always puzzled me.

    The snooty factor of the inspirational and even less straining prospective customers is the sizzle that sells the steak. Of course there is a hierarchy, as I’ve read too many posts by people that claim to want a good expensive watch, but one that normal people wouldn’t recognize as expensive. Translation: I’m a regular Joe with no knowledge whatsoever hoping to buy my way into impressing people two layers more knowledgeable (or just plain more rich) than I am.

    As odd as the impressers are, the people that go out of their way to be impressed by luxo-trinkets lacking appreciable tangible benefit are odder still. Admittedly, I have a distant amusement from some of it.

    • I’ll cop to being someone who likes expensive stuff that flies under the radar and your translation is not wrong. I usually see it as a distinctly male thing in a “notice me sempai” way.

      Although most of the people that I know who are two levels up don’t care about watches; they’re thinking about launching satellites or building AI.

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