Daniel not-so-Wellington

For Bloomberg, Daniel Wellington is a wonderful success story. In only four years the company that sells mainstream, Swedish-designed and China-produced watches managed to (A) reach the same annual unit sales as Rolex, (B) exponentially grow its distribution system and (C) become the most popular watch brand on the hottest social platforms at the moment.

But for a big part of its initial target, its growth might mean the end of brand loyalty.

How did all start, anyway? The brand never had too much substance. Its story did not even come close to an authentic one, the watches were made in China and the design was minimalist, but rather generic.

However, it started growing. From the very start, Instagram was DW’s main growth engine — their approach of creating a visually appealing universe through star-user product placement and special follower discounts worked wonders.

It kept appearing into our Instagram feeds on a constant basis. The product placement never felt intrusive. At first, we double tapped because the picture looked pretty. Then, we double tapped because we liked the way the watch looked in the picture. Ultimately, we started double tapping everything related to the watch. And from a “meh” to a “I need one right now” there was only a small step.

Daniel Wellington never really addressed hipsters, but it did address a niche. Its presence on Instagram and Instagram only transformed the watches into a community token. One had such an object if they were engaged users on Instagram. Millennial instagrammers proudly wore it as a manifestation of their much-discussed, much-needed community belonging. We felt special.

But then, something happened. We started seeing Daniel Wellington at a discount price in the airline magazines. We started seeing several other people wearing it at our favorite cafe. We saw it in malls, we saw it in boutiques, we saw it on other websites. They were expanding their distribution system, but we all knew what that meant — Daniel Wellington had become mainstream.

And so, I stopped wearing mine. My friends on Instagram stopped wearing theirs. Its value — that did not stand in design, brand story or fashion trends — had become irrelevant.

What did I learn from all this? That given the optimal context, a brand’s story might become completely irrelevant when faced to the power of their target’s content creation abilities. That the public can shape the brand in fundamental ways. That through marketing tactics only, a brand may (unintentionally) end up adding core features to their DNA.

Daniel Wellington managed to fantastically grow, but mainstream success came at a price: forever killing its initial target that’s now waiting for the next new, hip product it can buy in order to express its affiliation.

It feels bad to follow shallow trends, but hell, it feels good to belong.

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