Montres Rolex SA: Celebrity Endorsement campaign

Judson Knight


Rolex, the Geneva-based maker of ultra-high-quality and high-priced timepieces, had at one time or another sponsored the Wimbledon tennis tournament as well as the PGA and LPGA golf circuits, and its advertising made heavy use of athletes. Thus in 1997 it signed a deal with young golfing sensation Tiger Woods for a campaign that ran through 1998 and beyond, adding his name to a roster that included golfer Arnold Palmer, Olympic skier Picabo Street, and mountain climber Ed Viesturs. Rolex advertising in 1998 featured Woods, Street, and others, including quite a different category of celebrity—classical musicians. J. Walter Thompson of New York handled the account, which was valued at $9.3 million in 1996. Spending for 1998 was well over $10 million and focused primarily on magazine advertisements.

Rolex historically had tended to take a low-key approach to marketing, as befit a company whose customer base was in the top fraction of all income earners. Nonetheless, given the fact that it was known for the accuracy of its timepieces, Rolex began to market itself in connection with athletic events at least as early as the 1970s. It also established itself as the timekeeper of record for a number of international competitions. Certainly athletics was a "great leveler," bringing together people of different backgrounds, and with its 1998 advertising Rolex sent a clear message that it intended to reach a somewhat wider market with its products, particularly the lower-priced Tudor line.