Daniel Wellington — A Waste of Time or Time Worth Wasting?

Watches for the Instagram Generation

Photo by Alex Presa on Unsplash

For as long as I can remember I’ve worn a watch. There’s something I find very comforting about having access to the time on me, and for the last several years my Casio F-91W has adorned my wrist nearly everywhere I go. Yet during lockdown, perhaps as a product of housebound insanity, I was seduced by the idea of buying something a little dressier. After all, a watch is the only piece of jewellery I wear, so why not invest in something eye-catching?

Whilst scrolling through John Lewis’ watch offerings, I stumbled across the brand Daniel Wellington. Complete with charming backstory, relatively affordable prices of around £150 and elegant designs, it seemed as though I was onto a winner.

“It was a coincidental meeting halfway around the world that inspired the idea for Daniel Wellington. On this trip, our founder, Filip Tysander, met an intriguing British gentleman with impeccable yet understated style … His name? Daniel Wellington. Inspired by his new acquaintance’s timeless style, Filip decided to create his own line of watches.”
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Daniel Wellington

Yet minutes into what turned into a horological rabbit-hole, the cracks began to show in their seemingly pristine manifesto. Scathingly dubbed as a “fashion watch brand” on the watch enthusiast forums, Daniel Wellington reportedly manufacture their timepieces for as little as a 15th of the cost of retail. The Swedish-designed watches are assembled in China and house Japanese movements, with some models taking names of British towns. Whilst their provenance is far from the United Kingdom, it seems as though they have appropriated a British image to instil an idea of heritage, despite having only been around since 2011. The more I read, the more I began to doubt the authenticity of their backstory, remembering how Hollister came under fire for fabricating theirs in an elaborate marketing ploy. The unanimous criticism for Daniel Wellington was not necessarily directed at their designs, but that they offer comparatively bad value for their price point. I for one like to do my research before making any sort of purchase to ensure I am getting the best possible value for my money. Surely others were reading the same excoriating reviews that I was? Yet in 2017, Daniel Wellington was named Europe’s fastest growing private company, making over $220 million in revenue.

Photo by Wassim Chouak on Unsplash

Daniel Wellington’s success can be owed to their use of social media-driven marketing, a strategy which had all but been neglected by their established competitors back in 2011 when Tysander founded the brand. By getting influencers to advertise their products in sponsored posts on Instagram, Daniel Wellington were able to carve a niche for themselves in an incredibly competitive and saturated market. Many micro-influencers, with followers ranging from one to one hundred thousand, are happy to post sponsored content in exchange for nothing more than free merchandise, providing cost-effective and highly targeted brand promotion. Whilst other companies may focus on traditional marketing strategies, Daniel Wellington rely almost entirely on social media, and through robust marketing, these technically poor timepieces have attained a sense of desirability amongst the Instagram generation.

With an impressive Instagram following of 4.9 million, Daniel Wellington’s social media presence is leaps and bounds ahead of even some of horology’s most respected and established companies. For example, the Japanese brand Seiko, established in 1881 and one of the largest watch manufacturers in the world, have only 488 thousand followers. Despite some models priced below the retail of a Daniel Wellington, Seiko’s complacency to invest sufficiently in social media marketing has allowed fashion watch brands such as Daniel Wellington to flourish whilst stealing digitally-native customers beneath them. With 50% of the world’s population now on social media, the importance of companies digitally engaging with their customers is only set to increase. Is it too-much-too-late for brands such as Seiko to gain relevance using social media, or will Generation Z continue to buy cheap celebrity-endorsed products without regard for quality?

Photo by Katka Pavlickova on Unsplash

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the global economy has seen the most severe global economic contraction since at least the 1930s. With watch dealers closing stores across the world, the industry has taken a huge hit. Whilst it remains unclear what the lasting implications of the pandemic will have on the industry, many watch manufacturers may be forced to adapt their business strategies to survive the post-pandemic market. Several high-end watch brands, such as Rolex, intentionally short demand on their most popular watch models, which can only be bought in person. With the introduction of social distancing, these companies may be forced to consider expanding into e-commerce and focus even more on their social media presence to stay relevant.

To Bill Prince of GQ, owning a watch is “the nearest a man can get to owning an It bag — and occupy the same role: confirmation that he is someone who understands current trends, and has the resources to do so.”

For now, I think I will stick with my Casio.

Software Developer & Makers.tech Graduate