The most obvious answers tend only to be so on hindsight. Case in point: Hublot’s mid-2000s foray into the world of football at a time when no other brand did. As CEO Ricardo Guadalupe recalled, “This happened sometime around 2005, shortly after Mr. [Jean-Claude] Biver had taken over as CEO. We wanted to enter an area where no other brand had an existing partnership in, because it was difficult for us then, as a small brand, to compete with the big players in other sports like golf. Football was overlooked by other watch brands because it was supposedly too ‘mass’ and lacked exclusivity. We saw this as an opportunity and decided to take it, because the brand would be visible to billions of people – we wanted brand awareness, even if people weren’t necessarily able to afford our watches.”
Hublot’s first partnership was a relatively small-scale one with the Swiss national football team. Several other collaborations on various levels quickly followed, with all these marketing and branding efforts subsumed under the brand’s “Hublot Loves Football” pillar of activities. This first mover’s advantage into the world’s most popular sport has reaped enormous dividends for the brand, from access to billions of spectators globally, to associations with some of the largest sporting giants in the world today.
Hublot’s largest scale partnership is with FIFA – the manufacture has been the official timekeeper for the FIFA World Cup since 2010, and will reprise its role next year for the 2018 edition of the tournament, which will be held in Russia. Far from being just a partner in name, Hublot has contributed variously to the tournament. The 2014 FIFA World Cup held in Brazil, for example, saw the debut of a new referee’s board optimised for legibility and comfort – the first such tweak in over three decades – while also being reminiscent of the iconic Big Bang timepiece. Mr Guadalupe has hinted at other such developments for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, including Hublot smartwatches integrated with goal line technology that will aid match officials in refereeing matches.
Apart from the FIFA World Cup, Hublot also has Pelé, widely recognized as the greatest footballer of all time, as its brand ambassador. The football legend’s enduring popularity today, decades after his retirement, speaks volumes about his status as an elder statesman in football – as does his choice to collaborate with Hublot. Said Pelé, “Of course, many brands have approached me before, but I will not endorse products like beer, which is not good for [football] or people. Hublot has consistently tried to support the sport, with projects such as building a football pitch for children in Rio de Janeiro, which is why I chose to work with them.” Needless to say, Pelé’s ambassadorial work in football now frequently involves Hublot, with their latest joint appearance taking place earlier this year in Russia, where the two marked the one-year countdown to the 2018 World Cup with the 2018 Confederations Cup.
Elsewhere in the world, Hublot is also a sponsor of Italian football club Juventus, English football club Chelsea, and Portuguese football manager José Mourinho; the brand’s partners in football alone are diverse in both scale and geography. Do not mistake Hublot for a “marketing brand” though. As Jean-Claude Biver, ex-CEO and current chairman of the board at Hublot explains, “If you do a lot of marketing, you can make your brand trendy. But that is just fluff – you need good products to fall back on. Of course, Hublot’s marketing is very visible, because when we initially started, we had to push hard in marketing to generate immediate results. What people don’t realise is that we were spending as much money on research and development to innovate in movements, materials, case shapes, bracelets, basically everything! This has paid off: Hublot is probably the strongest in R&D within LVMH’s watchmaking brands.” Indeed, the proof is in the pudding, and Hublot’s watches do not disappoint. Consider the football-themed Big Bang Unico Retrograde Chronograph, which uses two retrograde hands and a jumping counter to track the elapsed time in a football match. Taken together with the aforementioned smartwatch with goal line technology, Hublot is clearly well-poised to express the best in both mechanical and digital watchmaking – yet another example of its Art of Fusion.