Monday, January 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Tag Heuer

Dear Tag Heuer,

First time letter from a long-time fan!  I bought my first Tag Heuer (a red and green F1) in the summer of 1990.  Later that December I was given another stainless steel Tag Heuer when I completed my studies at the University of Oregon.  

I have followed your growth and development with interest and always enjoyed the latest offerings.  In particular, the Carrera and the McQueen Monaco have always been my favorites!

Like any brand, I know that you need to stir things up to keep them fresh, and I appreciate that it is a fine line to walk when courting "edginess".  Your latest brand ambassador (Cara DELEVINGNE)
fits the bill quite well in terms of helping you connect to a younger, emerging market.


The video and print campaign that features a baby lion with the ambassador cuddling and playing with it was perhaps not the best informed choice that your marketing and PR teams could have made.  To put it plainly - the lion cub had to come from somewhere.  Or to put it more basically, mother lions are not really equipped to make the same sort of choices that "stage moms" in the US are.  What this means is that a young lion was taken - not by choice - from its family.   So why is this a big deal?


The "Wildlife Petting" industry in Africa is a tragic cycle where young lions are taken away from their mothers to "petting zoos" where the cubs are treated like house pets. That is, until they get too old to pet. Then they are off to the wildlife equivalent of Gladiator. Only the lions aren't armed. Wealthy Americans, Europeans and others pay a fee to get within 3 or 4 meters in a fenced in area and blast away at a lion who is now too familiar with people to suspect anything, and certainly unable to evade the hunters or defend itself.  These "brave hunters" then pose for a "selfie" with the dead "canned lion" on Facebook.  

Needless to say, the lions in these situations are going to "crack under pressure".

But I see a great opportunity here - one of your more notable celebrity ambassadors is deeply involved in wildlife conservation.  Mr. DiCaprio could speak far more eloquently than I on the perils of canned lion hunting.  I would encourage you to reach out to him and get some feedback.  You could then work with him, his other "lion loving" friends like Tobey Maguire, who knows, maybe even Bono!  It could be the Product RED of the watch world ; )

I realize that this might feel like unwanted pressure, or criticism for your choices.  That is only human, and this is certainly not the most important thing to take away from the current pr situation you find yourself in.  We praise you when you do something exciting, edgy and cool - and we should.  But please know that a good friend is also one who let's you know when maybe you have made a misstep.

But... I also appreciate and respect that it is your company, and you have to make, and live with your decisions.  


James Henderson


  1. TAG Heuer hired the services of the Gruss family for last Friday’s event at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris to announce its new muse, Cara Delevingne. The top model appeared with Antares, a baby lion, and Pharaon, an adult male. The health and well-being of the two animals were of the highest concern throughout the event, from its earliest preparations to the end.
    The two lions are members of the Gruss family circus. Pharaon was born with them two years ago and Antares was adopted during its first days after its mother abandoned it. This is quite common, especially when the mother is young and gives birth to its first cub. The animals live in a park in Sologne, France, where they can wander freely and have a shelter at night. The way the Gruss family care for their animals is famous throughout the circus world and beyond reproach. They are especially well regarded for two aspects of their animal care: the way they train their animals—with rewards, not punishments; and the way they place their animals at the best animal parks in the world when they reach retirement age.
    TAG Heuer has long been engaged in efforts to protect the environment. It is committed to the protection of animals and would never tolerate any ill treatment during its campaigns and events. The Swiss brand has been part of projects to protect nature and wildlife in the past and will continue to pursue these actions in the future.
    TAG Heuer team

  2. Dear Tag Heuer,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your feedback on my post and this controversy. While I truly appreciate the depth and time put into this response, I think you are missing the bigger point - and the bigger opportunity to turn this around. I truly respect your right to run your brand and your campaigns as you see fit. But... consider that countries around the world are moving to ban the use of live animals as performers in circuses and I have a hard time seeing that as a "saving grace". Moreover, I appreciate that the animals are placed in the "best parks in the world" when they reach retirement age - but I am scratching my head to understand where those retirement parks are. I also absolutely appreciate that one of these lions was born in the wild - if I have read your response correctly - but there are many other options for rehabilitating lions (and other wild animals) that are abandoned by their mothers/prides without making a few dollars on it. Circuses in general are under heavy, heavy scrutiny for their practices and treatment of animals. Once again, you have an opportunity - the question is whether or not you wish to pursue it. Maybe to put it more succinctly - if you were an orphan, would you rather be adopted by a family (in this instance that would represent being brought to a rehabilitation center to be reintroduced into the wild), or would you rather be sold to a work farm? I realize this sounds like a fanciful example - but not too long ago that is how we handled parentless children around the world - and in some countries still do ; ) We in the west have taken quite a bit from Africa for profit. Maybe it's time consider putting something back and to stop taking? That last bit is not directed at you but at the circus industry.

    Your watches are wonderful, and I appreciate your commitment to the environment and would love to write about your initiatives if you would be good enough to share them with me. Having said that, in this one instance I am not convinced. But I encourage you to keep the conversation going with your customers both old and new. And with me - Please know and understand that I am ready to have my opinion changed - and I want to hear your side of the story. I will be at BaselWorld and would love to meet with you to hear not just about your watches but your charitable initiatives.

    My dance card is open, and I hope to hear from you!


    James Henderson