Hublot, the self-styled ‘first luxury brand of soccer’, first partnered with Fifa to become the official timekeeper of the World Cup in 2010 and is now returning for its third edition of soccer’s biggest international jamboree.
Ahead of this summer’s tournament, Hublot has launched its first smart watch, the ‘Big Bang Referee 2018’, which tracks games for its wearer and displays real-time statistics— and, for referees, connects to goal-line technology. Ricardo Guadalupe, chief executive of the watchmaker, discusses how Hublot is looking to capitalise on the atmosphere of one of the world’s biggest sporting events, and how the brand is using new technology to capture new customers.
What factors informed your brand’s decision to partner with Fifa for the World Cup?
That started a long time ago, in 2006, because at that time it was not well-known. It was a very small, young brand born in the 1980s. We repositioned it, gave it a new message and a new DNA.
We went into football because it was a virgin territory. With football, no watch brands had gone there because they think it’s too popular and they aren’t targeting the right consumer. But we said maybe, but you can speak also to our consumer. We make a high-end, luxury product, so it’s usually wealthier people buying them— but these people like football too. The young generation especially like football. Fifa and Uefa are our big two partners, and we’ve had our branding on the four refereeing boards, which has given us an acceleration in the creation of brand awareness. Billions of people have seen our name and now many people know who we are.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt are Hublot's 'friends of the brand'
What sort of activations are you doing around the World Cup?
One of our activations will be in interactive digital advertising and we are also doing a digital campaign pre-World Cup called the ‘Champions Advice’. We have friends of the brand, like Pele, Maradona, Usain Bolt, Jose Mourinho and Gareth Southgate, and we decided to create a [campaign] around giving advice to people on how to become a champion, so it’s a more philosophical approach.
How will you measure the success of the World Cup to you as a brand?
First the visibility by TV, but also digital is hugely important. Fifa are saying that more people will watch the World Cup on digital than on TV this year. If you accumulate the people watching, that’s 30 billion people watching the World Cup accumulated during one month. The return-on investment (ROI) is always difficult to calculate specifically, but you’re talking hundreds of millions of pounds in return, for what is an important investment— large but much less than that. It’s a long-term process and you can’t see an impact on sales immediately, but it’s more about building something, and the value you get is in brand visibility.
You’ve launched this smart watch linked to goal-line technology— how do you see this impacting refereeing and how will it affect fan experience?
We started two years ago with Fifa, and we said, let’s do something together where we can include the goal-line technology. There is obviously no obligation for the referees to wear it but we did good work and seminars with them. I think 89 per cent of the referees will wear the watch, and it is this specific application for them. I think it will make refereeing a little bit easier; there will be five referees wearing the watch during the game and so if there is a big incident, they can stop the time and see how long the time was stopped on the same watch. Before, this wasn’t possible on one watch.
For fans, they can follow statistics and things on their watch, and this makes it more exciting, more engaging. I decided to do a collectors’ item for the public with 2018 pieces to be sold before the World Cup through our network, and the success has been unbelievable— it shows that you can produce a smart watch, at a high price, and people will buy it— it is €5000, the most expensive smart watch on the market.
Hublot's new Smart watch, the 'Big Bang Referee 2018', will be used by referees during this summer's World Cup
How important is the Russian market to the brand?
Russia is an important market. It is not as big as China or the USA for instance, but it is important. The people are very sophisticated— they want something particular, they don’t just want an expensive watch, they want something special.
Are there any new markets you’re seeking to reach and how will you go about facilitating that growth?
For us, China is a market we’d like to grow in, it is the biggest market in the world – I would say – for luxury products. The Chinese buy a lot of watches. Of ten watches sold, five or six of them are to Chinese— so half of the watch business.
As a company, we currently sell only one and a half to the Chinese, so the potential to become five is important. For us, the future to really grow in that market is there.
We will do this, for instance, through football. They are becoming big fans of football; they watch the World Cup, the Premier League, the Champions League, and we try to talk to the younger generation. The older generation are more classical— they wear only classic watches. I cannot transform this consumer so I prefer to talk to the young ones, aged 20 to 25. There you can succeed easily; in five years you can become a millionaire because it is a booming country. So we are focusing on this new generation of Chinese people.