Dr. Heather Palmer
Propaganda & Persuasion, 2/1/2011
Generational Time Told – Breitling’s Chronomat B01 Watch. Paper Number 1
Horology is the art or science of measuring time. For time immemorial, man has been fascinated by the art and technology of determining the span of time that regulates and defines both life and everyday existence. From the ancient sundials that man first used, to the iconic architecture of London’s Big Ben, to the modern ultra-accurate quartz movements – clocks potentially represent an amazing confluence of technology, fashion and functionality. Breitling is a manufacturer of luxury watches and they pride themselves in the accuracy, fashion, and longevity of their products. This paper will explore this relationship, using the example of the Breitling Chronomat B01: a very high-end, self-winding, luxury watch.
The idea of purchasing a luxury watch is considered to be an option by most people. It is something that can generally be indulged in when it can be afforded and sometimes only after it has been appropriately worked for. It can be taken for granted that the modern materialistic society that we inhabit seeks to make luxury items ever more and more commonplace. It is also generally understood that by nature of the dynamic of the essentiality of selling and purchasing given materials intrinsic to such an economic archetype – it will also eventually become a consumer-based society. It follows that subsequent to the increased profit margins of a high volume selling/purchasing communal market, yet another dynamic emerges: that of cheaper and cheaper merchandise which wears out quickly and is again replaced by further re-purchasement on the part of the consumer. It is arguable that the intended quality – in terms of the permanence of so-called ‘durable goods’ – is in fact becoming more and more decreased insofar as products are becoming, essentially, less and less durable. This intention of ‘planned obsolescence’ and sort a short ‘shelf life’ in terms of usability, serves to keep the economic consumer/materials/consumption engine going – but it also gives rise to another dynamic: that of an awareness on the part of the consumer of being pervasively “fleeced,” because of the constant need to re-buy/re-purchase/re-invest. In reaction to this feeling – certain consumers will make an attempt to purchase higher quality merchandize that has not yet been fully subsumed into the ‘culture of necessary perpetual replacement’. They will seek items that will last – perhaps for a lifetime – and are willing to pay what might be considered a ‘one time surcharge’ for the right to ‘rebel against the system’ and gain the ‘privilege of permanence’. This, in part, helps create the backdrop dynamic behind the niche market which serves as part of the whole composite which makes up Breitling’s potential customer base. Because of this, a large part of Breitling’s advertisement is geared towards the idea of permanence and quality.
But Breitling utilizes other propaganda dynamics as well. Their tagline is “instruments for professionals” and the imagery of their marketing resonates with pictures of aircraft and professional pilots. On their website, www.breitling.com, they feature a video which portrays the history of the company entitled Since 1884. The idea that is conveyed resonates with the general style that pervades their advertising. Breitling advertises themselves as a manufacture of critical tools – as apposed to mere everyday, ever-wearing out watches. They assert that they are the ‘mechanical Chronomat specialist’, by nature of the exacting ‘quality criteria’ that they employ in the design and manufacture of their watches. The insinuation that is made is that both the Chronomat B01 (the internal workings of which are featured at the end of the video presentation), as well as all their watches are the ‘best in their class’ – the kind of watch that any professional aviator would, without a doubt, wear. Unlike some companies that actually openly mock their own customers (such as Bud Light’s ongoing “Real Men of Genius” marketing campaign), Breitling makes every effort to portray those who would use their watches as uncompromising professionals who seek exceptional quality, accuracy, and longevity in their purchase of a watch.
The Breitling B01 caught my own attention because I have considered purchasing a watch that will ideally be an heirloom that will outlast my own existence, time wise. Electronic watches will eventually fail because of the long-term fragility of their components. High-quality, windup mechanical varietals with jewel movements, however (if properly maintained in terms of cleaning) can last potentially hundreds of years. Several months ago, I purchased an Elgin Pocket watch that was manufactured in 1897 and which actually still keeps good time. I have owned several watches, all of which I wore for a year or two before each of them broke in such a way that repair was either impossible or non-cost effective. It has been a long-term goal of mine to save up enough money to purchase a watch that I will not have to replace ever again. My 113-year-old Elgin has 17 jewels. The Breitling B01 has 47. Generally speaking, when a watch has more jewels it will last longer and be of a higher quality in terms of accuracy and quality in its design. In my own search for a watch that could meet what I consider exceptional and hard to find quality – I was immediately drawn to the Breitling B01 Chronomat.
The way that Breitling’s distribution sales model is structured also influences its advertising strategy dynamics. Breitling benefits from the fact that its watches are sold at very high-end jewelry stores. The local Chronomat B01 billboard advertisement (located for a time on I-75 in Chattanooga) was put up by Rone Regency Jewelers. Because of this, Breitling need only to produce a relatively small amount of marketing, in terms of placement purchasing. The majority of the marketing placement of advertisements, billboard campaigns, and print advertisements are paid for by independent jewelers – who make a degree of profit on each watch that is sold. This sales distribution configuration gives luxury watchmakers like Breitling potentially exponential market exposure. Their market penetration is limited only to the current number of advertising campaigns that any given number of jewelers are conducting on behalf of any given respective watch at any given time. To be an authorized Breitling reseller, it is assumed that the store is a higher quality establishment – and not just an average or even fly-by-night operation. You are not going to see an authentic Breitling watch sold next to cell phone accessories at a shopping mall kiosk. If you did find one, it would be assumed to almost assuredly be a counterfeit knockoff.
There is of course the seemingly omnipresent propaganda dynamic of ‘Sex Sells’. This stereotypical but time-tested standard motif is not fully absent in Breitling’s current online advertising. The closest approximation to this propaganda archetype is the movie short, found on Breitling’s website, Racing for Anna, which features a model (presumed to be “Anna”) who is waving a racing flag – while two planes (a sleek, turbo prop and a second propeller driven stunt plane) perform a series of carefully executed and stunning maneuvers alongside one another. Whereas sex is indeed a part of the propaganda matrix, it is superimposed with the images of the professional pilots deftly executing ‘do not try this at home’ type stuff. The idea that is imparted is the view that while Anna is indeed wordlessly interested in just exactly which of the two pilots is perhaps her own ‘top gun’ in the aerial interplay, the focus is on not just the machines that the pilots are controlling – but also the watches that they are wearing. The implicit impression is made that not just everybody gets to fly a plane – even more so – not just everybody gets to fly planes like these. The propaganda that we are entreated to is that – concurrent to this reality – not just everybody gets to wear a precision crafted timepiece – even more so – a time piece like a Breitling. This is the emotional hook that Breitling seeks to cast upon the potential customer and the message in terms of the self-perception of the viewer: this is an exceptionally precise watch for exceptional people who do exceptional things – with exceptionally precise machines. The implied question of ‘are you exceptional yourself,’ is perhaps relegated to the question of either can you afford one, or at least to can you make the exceptional effort to save up enough money to be able to make a purchase. Another example of the Breitling ‘exceptionality’ idiom is their co-branding with Bentley Motors – a car that has long been associated with the essence of exceptionality in the minds of automotive enthusiasts.
But how does Breitling measure up in terms of its affective use of propaganda in its advertising? In terms of overall effectiveness – I feel that Breitling is accomplishing the task of communicating to the public that it is possible to purchase a watch that will be accurate, reliable, beautiful, and virtually unparalleled in its potential longevity in terms of usability concomitant to the provision of a lifetime of enjoyable and exceptional service. By surrounding itself with images of aircraft and professional pilots, Breitling is able to deliver an essence that their watches will not fail when they are truly needed. Your life can depend on this watch. Like the aircraft in their advertisements, it would appear that there is an immense amount of history, technology, design, and a sense of uncompromising reliability that goes into the design and manufacturing of each Breitling watch. You can have this watch forever. I feel that they have conveyed a strong argument – that if you want to buy one watch that your grandchildren will potentially pass on to their grandchildren – then their watches are good candidates for just such a watch: one that will stand just such a test of time.
In terms of classic propaganda modalities it can be argued that the Breitling Chronomat B01 advertisements hit all three elements of propaganda in terms of the dynamics of ethos, logos, and pathos. Breitling makes it clear that the character or ethos of a typical Breitling owner is summed up in the idea of being exceptional. The Logos or logic/reason element is fulfilled in the idea that an exceptional person consistently relies on exceptional instruments of power and in turn demands exceptional quality in terms of their beauty, longevity and performance – which very much embodies the motif of the jet fighter or stunt pilot. This in turn folds into the element of Pathos on the part of the observer. Having observed what an exceptional person can do and the watch that they would naturally wear – if it were possible to acquire and own a watch of matching exceptionality – it follows, therefore, that it would be a logical and natural desire to make an effort to find a way of actually acquiring it. The emotion of pride, both overt and nondescript, is integral to the owner, as the watch – for them – may existentially represent a projected self-awareness that ‘I too am an exceptional person as well’. Perhaps the most powerful, unspoken metanarrative is the capacity for the Breitling owner to potentially acknowledge to himself or herself that they have indeed broken the seemingly endless cycle of buying a new watch, that goes along with the before mentioned ‘culture of perpetual replacement’. Having paid their ‘one time surcharge’ – they are now the ‘exceptional rebels,’ who have the ‘privilege of permanence’ over and against the system that those who lack exceptionality must continue to work, exist within and continually seek their own illusive escapes from. If a Breitling is cared for and professionally maintained and cleaned – it genuinely can literally last forever.
In closing – and on my own confession, I will admit that I frustratingly want to buy one last watch – one that unlike any luxury car I might ever buy – will potentially never wear out or even ever be out of fashion. I want to be a rebel as well. I want to achieve a sense of permanence over and against my own never-ending consumption and re-purchasement of things that I have already bought once, twice, and even sometimes thrice before. Aware of my own mortality – I am also aware of those select few materialist items which are possessive of such adequate exceptionality as to potentially embody an existentially-sublimated sense of immortality; one that I can cannot wholly take on, but I can, at least – put on my wrist. Of course – I could always spend a mere $65 dollars on a Wal-Mart grade watch every year. If a 47 jeweled Chronomat B01 can last over 100 years – like my antique Elgin Pocket watch has – then it might be argued that I could discard the idea of purchasing a new watch every year for $65 and invest the $6,500 that the Breitling Chronomat commands as its investment. It is true, that at this economy of scale, my son (or even my grandson) would realize any supposed, eventual cost savings – after 100 years. But then again – a family heirloom that can be passed from father to son, generation after generation, might be able to command any suitable price that one could potentially work hard, save up for, and invest towards. In addition to my Elgin, I also have my own grandfather’s railroad pocket watch – which, to me, is worth much more then the $200 that I invested in the purchase of my Elgin. It keeps good time as well. And that – is at least worth the 30 years my Grandfather worked on the railroads to get it.
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“Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity.” The Gift, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, pg. 28.
 All Breitling watches have the official COSC (Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute) certification. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArUH1uhXWKE&feature=related
 Breitling offers a professional cleaning and maintenance service for their chronograph watches. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6f5MOHOQc6g&feature=related
 By this I mean outside of my own spiritual understanding of things, of course.