Ad Report Card: Timex

A consistent challenge for established brands is coming up with marketing campaigns that get people excited about something they’ve already heard of. Like Timex watches. After all, the old Timex, “Takes a licking and keeps on” etc., ads had one of the most memorable taglines ever. Many years later, however, the selling point of watches now tends to be glamour and fashionable individuality, not durability. And so this installment of the Ad Report Card looks at a recent Timex spot that seems aimed at updating the brand’s image a bit. (You can view the ad here, by way of the Web site, which requires the use of QuickTime.) And I suppose it does that, although the details of the new Timex message are perhaps a little confusing.

The Ad: The spot itself is a small epic, a full minute in length. Set in a dark and threatening urban setting, the ad seems designed in part to suggest The Matrix: The hero is a vaguely Keanu-ish guy in a suit, squaring off against an assortment of vinyl-wearing thugs in quasi-supernatural martial-arts bouts. It begins with Virtual Keanu bursting through a door and leaping from a rooftop into an alleyway. Two Vinyled Meanies–one bald and one with big metal claws for hands–are close behind. Pumping synth-and-drum-machine music gathers steam in the background. Virtual Keanu pauses to set the timer on his watch, which is a Timex. He kicks and punches his foes, then grabs Bald’s arm and fiddles with his watch and does the same in his next exchange of fisticuffs with Claws. Both the meanies are also wearing Timex models. Now Virtual K performs a Matrix-like flip off the alley wall–and then his rivals’ watch alarms sound, and both pause and stare at the wrists as if trying to remember an appointment. (So that’s what our hero was up to!) Virtual Keanu promptly executes an exciting double face-kick that I suspect would be thwarted by the laws of physics in the real world. Suddenly a third Meanie (also bald, but sporting a goatee) leaps onto the scene. After a dubious exchange of martial-arts maneuvers, the men are monetarily deadlocked, until Goatee is distracted by Virtual Keanu’s beeping alarm–which he had quickly set earlier in the ad, you’ll remember–and yet another supernatural kick, this time involving a back flip, sends the meanie hurtling out of the frame once and for all. VK blows the dust off his watch like a gunslinger clearing smoke from the barrel of a six-shooter. We get one last look at the watches, and the slogan: “Timex i-Control Setting Systems. Ridiculously easy to use.”

What It’s Trying To Say: On some level, the ad suggests that Timex watches are exciting and stylish by plunging them into the center of an exciting battle among vaguely stylish people. We get a good look at the watches themselves, and some of them look OK–if not quite stylish, then not embarrassingly stupid, either. However, the most important message seems to be ease of use: The whole drama seems to turn on just how “ridiculously easy” it is for Virtual Keanu to fiddle with the functions on a Timex–why, he was even able to set alarms on his opponents’ watches during a fistfight.

What’s Odd About This Message: I don’t know about you, but I don’t think of watches as being incredibly complicated things. I sort of take it as a given, when I buy a watch, that I’ll be able to figure out how to use it pretty quickly. Admittedly, I don’t buy really souped-up digital watches with millions of functions (which I last remember being popular when I was a junior-high student, envious of the kid with a calculator watch), but I suspect that people who are interested in such devices are also capable of operating them. I just can’t remember anyone complaining to me that his or her old watch sure was great–except it was just too hard to use. People complain about their computers, about their VCRs, but their watches?

The Grade: C+. Even if the main message is a little weird, and the ad’s action is a little hard to follow, at least the spot associates the Timex brand with excitement and style, which is a starting point. Breathing new life into an old brand, it turns out, is not so ridiculously easy.