The Pop History Dig

“JFK, Pitchman?”
2009

Omega watch magazine ad of 2009 using JFK image and quote, ‘We choose to go to the moon,’ and also commemorating the 40th anniversary of the American moon landing .
Omega watch magazine ad of 2009 using JFK image and quote, ‘We choose to go to the moon,’ and also commemorating the 40th anniversary of the American moon landing .
     Well, perhaps not pitchman – but awfully close.  The image and words of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, have been used recently in a 2009 advertising campaign to sell Omega Speed- master watches.  JFK’s image is there, big as life, as seen in the sample magazine ad copy at right that ran in the August and September 2009 editions of Wired maga- zine, among others.  JFK is also shown in a TV version of the ad that uses historical film footage of a 1962 speech he gave (clip below).  The magazine and TV spots were created around the 40th anniversary of the American landing on the Moon and the Apollo space program that Kennedy initiated.

     Still, in the Omega ads, Kennedy is the all-important center of attention.  No, he doesn’t endorse the product; doesn’t say anything remotely connected to a watch, although a watch is clearly shown.  Kennedy’s presence in the ad, however, is quite enough.  It’s an endorsement by association, which is obviously what Omega intended. In fact, the company says as much in an April 2009 press release: “Omega is basing a worldwide campaign for its iconic Speedmaster chronograph watches  around a photograph of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”

     Omega Speedmaster watches have history with the U.S. space program; the Omega Speedmaster Professional was the official watch tested and approved by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use by U.S. astronauts in the 1960s.  In fact, a few of the watches eventually made their way to the moon with astronauts wearing them – a claim made in the upper portion of the ad in the small print beneath the Omega logo:  “The first and only watch worn on the moon.  20 July 1969.”  This ad isn’t using astronauts, however, but rather a famous president whose name and image in print – and voice in the TV clip – summon up a lot more than just the moon program.

Close-up of JFK Library drawing used in Omega ad.
Close-up of JFK Library drawing used in Omega ad.
     Omega, of course, obtained all the requisite permissions to use the JFK material from the rights holders – in this case, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston.  It is presumed there was some kind of compen- sation involved for the use of the material, but no amount has been revealed publicly.  There does appear to have been some kind of agreement for including the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on the advertising copy, as there is a small drawing of the library building in the lower lefthand corner of the ad with a note urging readers to “learn more” by visiting the JFK Library at their website, www.jfklibrary.org.


Moon Program

     Kennedy first proposed that the nation launch a major undertaking to reach the Moon in a May 1961 address to Congress, saying: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth.”  Later, in 1962 speech at Rice University, he reiterated the nation’s commitment to that goal.  Omega watches became involved in the space program with Astronaut Gordon Cooper’s launch on May 15th, 1963, when the Speedmaster watch was approved by NASA for use on all of its manned flights, including the six lunar landings.  When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 21st, 1969, Omega watches went there as well, one in the landing craft and one on Buzz Aldrin’s wrist when he joined Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface.  Thus the company’s claim, “the first and only watch worn on the Moon.”  More detail about the history and use of Omega watches in the Apollo program can be found in an article at the Lunar Surface Journal website and also at OmegaWatches.com.



     The video spot Omega used in its 2009 advertising campaign is a 30-second piece that excerpts images and words from Kennedy’s September 1962 speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  “…We choose to go to the moon…,” Kennedy says, as a portion of his speech is shown.  “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things before the end of this decade not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”  Cut to Apollo rocket launch.  Then cut to final frame with an Omega Speedmaster Watch that zooms up large to fill the screen.  This is followed by credit lines and a brief glimpse of the JFK library drawing similar to the one in the print ad with the words, “Learn more. www.jfklibrary.org…”

     Omega’s JFK ad campaign went out internationally as well as within the U.S., part of a larger effort by the company to increase its exposure worldwide.  The print ads and TV spots ran in the summer of 2009, July through September.  Omega was then offering its Speedmaster Professionals in two special, limited editions – “40th Anniversary Apollo 11 Moonwatches” – a stainless steel version with a limited run of  7,969 produced, and another 18-karat yellow gold version with 69 produced.  Each watch would bear special engraving commemorating the lunar landing and also the numbered edition of each watch.


Exploiting Kennedy?

     Some may rightly wonder if Omega was exploiting America’s famous past president by hawking their watches on his good name and image, as well as the U.S. space program’s seminal accomplishment.  Rachel Day, a spokeswoman for the group that runs the JFK Library, told the New York Times she was unaware of any prior sanctioned use of Kennedy’s image for commercial purposes.  Then why start with watches?

Horizontal version of the JFK Omega watch ad, 2009.
Horizontal version of the JFK Omega watch ad, 2009.
     Omega officials, for their part, say they were trying to tap into the history of the event and the significance of the accomplishment.  “It was an unbelievable achievement,” Stephen Urquhart, president at the Omega division of the Swatch Group, told the New York Times in June 2009, referring to the moon landing – “probably the most important scientific achievement of the last century.”  Urquhart also suggested that the Omega ad was in part an attempt to revive history, although he acknowledged, “with so much going on in the world today, it’s not easy to revive memories, and some people have for- gotten.”  Still, his company found that even for “the younger generation, it rings an emotional bell” because of the historic nature of the event.  The September 2009 issue of Wired magazine – a magazine popular with young, upwardly mobile technology readers – carried the horizontal version of the Kennedy ad spread across two full pages in the magazine’s front section.

     Still, there were a few observers on the web who did comment on the Kennedy-Omega advertising – this by no means an exhaustive survey of such comment, much of which seemed more focused on watch styles and quality.  One writer noted a potential conflict between politics and marketing.  “I don’t really mind the celebrity endorsements or JFK, as a man,” he wrote.  “I just find it odd that Omega chose a politician in their ad.  Politics are a very sensitive matter and having a political figure, past or present, is not a good idea from a marketing perspective.”  He acknowledged, however that Omega was trying to tap into historic aspect of JFK and the space program.  Another writer named Brittany, added: “…While the ad is done in a pretty tasteful manner, I can’t help but think of the implications it has on JFK’s public image, advertising and what it says in general about the use of the deceased to sell (largely non-beneficial) wares.  I always feel a bit uneasy when images of people who have passed away are used in advertisements – even if their likeness is being used primarily to evoke the aura of an era long-gone…”

Omega & Apollo
Astronauts Using Watch

Apollo 8      Bill Anders
Apollo 8      Jim Lovell
Apollo 10    Tom Stafford
Apollo 11    Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11    Mike Collins
Apollo 12    Dick Gordon
Apollo 13    Fred Haise
Apollo 14    Alan Shepard
Apollo 14    Ed Mitchell
Apollo 15    Al Worden
Apollo 15    Jim Irwin
Apollo 17    Ron Evans
_________________________
* Not a complete list.
Source: “Flown Omega Speedmaster Pro-
fessional Chronographs Currently on Public
Display,” Lunar Surface Journal, 2004.

     Comedian Jon Stewart appears to have noticed Kennedy’s use in the ad, too.  In a send up he did on the moon landing’s 40th anniversary on the July 20, 2009 Daily Show, Stewart showed clips of the moon activity, astronauts, and Kennedy’s speech, quipping at one point about “that guy from the Omega watch ad,” among other things.

     In any case, the history of NASA’s involvement with Omega watches suggests that the technical merits of the watch, and the ease of its use and preference by the astronauts in the Apollo program, were the factors that convinced NASA in the 1960s to use it in the program.  And as Omega notes at its website, NASA made its decision to use the watches quite independent of any arm-twisting from Omega.  Still, in terms of advertising copy, it’s plain to see that ads featuring former President John F. Kennedy’s speech and image would be a lot more evocative and appealing to prospective magazine readers and TV viewers than alternatives that might have featured the watch’s scientific or technical performance in space.

January 1961 Life magazine photo of JFK with wife Jacqueline at inaugural ball.
January 1961 Life magazine photo of JFK with wife Jacqueline at inaugural ball.



Omega & Kennedy

     Omega also has another connection with Kennedy – and another watch it marketed in association with his name.  In 1960, a friend and political donor of Kennedy’s, Grant Stockdale, gave then-senator John Kennedy an Omega Ultra Thin watch.  That watch was later seen on Kennedy’s wrist in a photograph taken of Kennedy during his January 20th, 1961 presidential inauguration – a photo published in the January 27th edition of Life magazine.  Years later, in December 2005, Omega bought the actual watch that Kennedy wore for $350,000 at an auction, and it is now in the Omega Museum in Biel, Switzerland.  Also coming along with that watch was an original letter from Jacqueline Kennedy who wrote to Grant Stockdale thanking him for the watch, calling it the “thinnest most elegant wristwatch” and also commenting on how much her husband liked it compared to a more “chunky little one” that she had given him.

     In 2008, Omega decided to sell some commemorative editions of this watch, which they dubbed the “Kennedy Omega Ultra Thin.”  This watch, designed to look like the original JFK watch — which Omega says Kennedy wore throughout most of his presidency – went on sale in mid-2008, limited to 261 numbered commemorative pieces.  Each watch came with an 18-k gold case, black leather strap, and the gold “Omega” stamp and logo.  They were priced at $8,250 each.

Omega’s “Ambassadors”

     In addition to former U.S. Presidents, Swatch’s Omega brand has also associated with a number of celebrities in recent years who have helped the company sing the praises of its watches around the world, in both advertising campaigns and personal appearances.  Omega calls its celebrity spokespersons “ambassadors,” and at last count there were some 14 or so famous and near-famous from the worlds of sport, Hollywood and elsewhere doing their part for Omega watches.  Among Omega’s “ambassadors” as of mid-2009 were: Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps of the U.S., Massimiliano Rosolino of Italy, and Alexander Popov of Russia; pro golfers Sergio Garcia of Spain and Michelle Wie of the U.S.; yachtsman Dean Barker of New Zealnd who led his team to an Americas Cup; film stars George Clooney, Nichole Kidman, Daniel Criag (James Bond), Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha), Abhishek Bachchan (Bollywood actor, India); supermodel Cindy Craw- ford; racecar driver Michael Schumacher; U.K. yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, the youngest person to circumnavigate the earth in a solo yacht race; and Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the Moon.


The Swatch Group

     Omega is part of the Swatch Group, a Swiss company that is the world’s largest watch manufacturer.  It was formed in 1983 through the merger of two Swiss companies, ASUAG and SSIH, taking the name Swatch in 1998.  The company produces some 19 watch brands, and came to be known in part for its colorful plastic Swatch watches, as well as higher-end brands such as Breguet, Blancpain and Omega.  Other of its brand-name watches include:  Jaquet Droz, Glashütte Original, Union Glashütte, Léon Hatot, Omega SA, Tiffany & Co., Rado, Longines, Tissot, Calvin Klein, Certina, Mido, Pierre Balmain, Hamilton, Flik Flak and Endura. 

     In 2007, gross sales of the Swatch Group were in the neighborhood of 6 billion Swiss francs making it the equivalent of a Fortune 400 company or better.  Beyond watches and their components, Swatch has also ventured into high technology, fabricating microprocessors, smartcard technol- ogy, portable telephones, and other future-oriented designs.  It has also produced wrist- watches that double as telephones and credit cards.  In October 1998, Swatch debuted a novel small-car venture with Daimler-Benz called the Smart car, a project from which Swatch later withdrew.

     Swatch is no stranger to self promotion and pushing its wares.  In 1996, when the company was aggressively pushing for attention and market share in the U.S. market, it opened a mega-store on New York’s 5th Avenue, became the official timekeeper to the Olympic Games in Atlanta that summer, and also mounted a giant Swatch watch in New York’s Times Square to count down the year minute-by-minute on the way to 1997.  In 2008, a big part of its strategy in China came with its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and securing rights as the official timekeeper at the Games.  In the runup to the Games, Swatch placed a giant ‘Olympic Countdown Clock’ in Tiananmen Square.  The company reportedly spent something in the neighborhood of $100 million in connection with its sponsorship and promotions during the games.  Swatch and its various brands also use various celebrities from the world of sport and cinema to advertise its products. (see sidebar).

George Clooney is among the Omega “ambassadors” doing advertising for the company.  This ad includes the wording “George Clooney’s choice” just above the featured watch.
George Clooney is among the Omega “ambassadors” doing advertising for the company. This ad includes the wording “George Clooney’s choice” just above the featured watch.
     In 2009, as part of its Moon landing advertising and promotion, Omega also featured former astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Eugene Cernan, along with NASA engineer James Ragan, in press and other events in various cities around the world.  In June 2009, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin and NASA engineer James Ragan appeared with Omega president Stephen Urquhart, to open an Omega-sponsored exhibition at the Hong Kong Space Museum celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.  This same group also appeared a few days earlier in Tokyo, Japan for a press event at the Omega boutique store in the Ginza Prefecture to commemorate the Moon landing.  Earlier in June, Buzz Aldrin had appeared separately at an Omega press event and VIP cocktail party in New York City at the company’s 5th Avenue store.  Also in June, astronaut Eugene Cernan, the former astronaut and the last man to walk on the Moon, was in Portugal and Spain to help Omega launch its Speedmaster Apollo 11 “40th Anniversary ” limited-edition watches.

     Other stories at this website about John F. Kennedy include “JFK’s Profiles in Courage.”  Also at this website, stories about the use of celebrities and/or popular music in advertising include, for example, “Madonna’s Pepsi Ad,” “Nike & The Beatles,” “Dennis Does Ameriprise,” “Sting & Jaguar,”and “Selling Janis Joplin.”

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Date Posted:  29 August 2009
Last Update:  30 August 2009
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “JFK, Pitchman? — 2009,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 29, 2009.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Mary Jane Pittilla, “Omega Chooses the Moon in New JFK Ad Campaign,” The Moodie Report, April 27, 2009.

Ariel Adams, “Omega’s New John F. Kennedy Speedmaster Watch Ads,” Luxist.com, April 30, 2009.

Stuart Elliott, “Marketers Look to the Heavens to Honor the First Moon Walk,” New York Times, June 10, 2009.

Andrew Adam Newman, “Omega’s Reminder: J. F. K. Wore One,” New York Times, August 3, 2009.

Lee Bailham and Eric M. Jones, “Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronographs,” Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, 2004.

How the Omega Speedmaster Became the Moonwatch,”OmegaWatches.com, Monday, April 6, 2009.

Omega’s Presidential Campaign – The JFK Library Foundation, Apollo 11 and The Speedmaster,” OmegaWatches.com, Thursday, April 23, 2009.

OMEGA Celebrates the First Moon Landing with 2 Limited Edition Watches,” Omega  Watches.com, Tuesday, July 21, 2009.

“JFK’s Omega Ultra Thin Wristwatch,” OmegaWatches.com, Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Deidre Woollard “Omega To Sell Replica JFK Watches,” Luxist.com, February 22, 2008.

Ambassadors,”OmegaWatches.com.

“Dr. Buzz Aldrin: Legendary Moonwalker Lands at Omega’s NYC Boutique,”OmegaWatches.com, Wednesday, June 3, 2009.

“Omega Welcomes Buzz Aldrin to Tokyo,”OmegaWatches.com, Wednesday 17. of June 2009

“Hong Kong Space Museum Opens ‘Beyond Time’ Exhibition,” OmegaWatches.com, Friday, June 19, 2009.

OMEGA Welcomes the Last Man to Walk on the Moon to Portugal,”OmegaWatches.com, Friday, June 19, 2009.

Ram Mudambi, “Branding Time: Swatch and Global Brand Management,” The Richard J. Fox School of Business & Management, Temple University, Philadelphia PA, 2005, 19 pp.




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