Sunday, December 16, 2018

Michelin Stars for Watch Brands

With many of my colleagues gearing up for the salubrious back-rub known as the SIHH, I found myself reflecting once more on the notion of "watch journalism" and when we take that second word into account - journalism, does it really still exist?  When it comes to watch, luxury and fashion coverage?  Well that is where the lines seem to be constantly (and increasingly) blurred.  

Many brands seem to have "groomed" certain outlets (or perhaps it is the outlet that has groomed them?) to where the outlet has become a bit of an echo chamber for brand's PR and marketing departments.

For some outlets, it is a (sorry) brazenly clear attempt to get whatever they can from the brand in question.  For some brands?  Well, they have the budget and they play in the same pig-pen, so they simply view this as a cost of doing business.  But for the other, smaller brands?  Well it becomes harder and harder to survive.  When the self-described "Shit that Killed Elvis" online outlet demands a free watch or cash payment in exchange for a review of your product BEFORE they even agree to do the review?  Well, it becomes clear that two things are happening -

1.  The outlet is operating from a place of avarice, not information dissemination.

2.  It is highly unlikely that you will be getting any sort of honest review, because it has (to a large extent), been bought and paid for.

And yes, if you're reading this you grasping, rapacious guys and girls, I hope that you are blushing.

And as I sat thinking about all of this, I was jolted back into reality by David Chang's podcast (WHICH I HIGHLY RECOMMEND), in which he and a guest discussed the possibility of evaluating professional athletes on the same scale as the Michelin Guide and I thought if you could do it with basketball players, why not watches?

For those of you unacquainted with Bibendum's guide to fine dining, (and in all honestly I was in that group) as I now understand it, one star signifies "a very good restaurant", two stars are indicative of a restaurant with "excellent cooking that is worth a detour".  And what everyone strives for, the much vaunted three stars?  "Exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey".  And this is not a one and done exercise, as the Michelin Guide is updated every year.

And that other interesting thing that makes the Michelin Guide so intriguing as a review model?  It's anonymous.  Only the publisher's of the guide know who their reviewers were.

Think about that for a moment or two. 

So would it be possible to set up a similar type of system?  Sure it would!  Imagine this:

1.  An independent association is set up that will liaise with both the brands and the journalists/bloggers/influencers out there.  

2.  The Association will work with an ever-evolving and changing group of reviewers.  Many of these will be well-known writers and video personalities.  But just who they are and which group was responsible for reviewing the brand's watch will be unknown.

3.  The people evaluating the watches will be recused from participating in any review of a brand with which they have any sort of relationship beyond neutral.  If they are a "friend of the brand" (which happens, and I am a "friend" of a few), if they are doing any ancillary work for the brand (ditto), they they would not participate in the review process of that particular watch.

4.  At least 3 people would participate in the review, which would be based on "real life/real world" review priorities that would be important to "real people" that might actually "really buy" a watch and "really wear" it.

5.  Each reviewer would send their feedback based on a scoring system previously set forth that would ensure a systemic process that would also ensure anonymity.  

6.  The association would then tabulate the review, provide some summary commentary, and provide the model with a score from 1 - 3 stars.  ASSUMING that the watch merited even the 1 star.  

Now here's the funny part - you could still run this as a service that can charge fees while still remaining independent.   The brands would would pay a nominal fee to participate in the review process.  That fee would cover the shipping and insurance of the watch to be shipped first to the association, then on to the reviewer, then back again.

The association could put out a large format magazine 4 times per year (to ensure a timely presentation of the review).  And they could even sell advertising because, again, there would be no way to enforce a "Pay to Play" model for reviews as they would be anonymous.

And best of all?   It would still leave room for everyone out there currently writing and broadcasting about this stuff.  It would simply offer a different perspective.

Now I can already hear:

"But contests already exist to award and recognize the best!"

Well, again, yes and no.  There are contests that a brand can pay to enter.  And the "great and good" of the watch world will fly to Switzerland, pour themselves into formal wear, and hold forth in a solemn event.  But that is not a review, is it?  It's more of a beauty pageant.



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