There is a thread that links the Samurai and the Cowboy; both are powerful and obsessive masters of weaponry with the spirit and willingness to use the sword or the six-shooter to defend an ideal.
Like Japan, Texas is governed by a sense of individual identity, self-reliant in the midst of something bigger. Common cultural affects bridge the gap between these two proudly insular societies, collectively knitting a tapestry that connects machinery and art. A mutual appreciation for craftsmanship, technology, individual expression and flat out, foot-to-the-pedal performance has resulted in a unique collaboration between the Seiko Watch Company of Japan and the Gas Monkey Garage of Texas, representing a true melding of the aesthetic sensibilities and spirit of fun shared by the East and the West.
Home on the range
On a sultry Dallas night, down a semi-paved street in an industrial district adjacent to 35 East, lies the Gas Monkey garage complex, an auto customizing shop and the backdrop for Discovery Channel’s Fast and Loud television program. The garage and its founder / host / chief loudmouth Richard Rawlings, played a pivotal part in Seiko’s latest grassroots dealer / customer marketing outreach campaign celebrating Coutura’s 15th anniversary.
The planned evening event represented the culmination of a yearlong contest involving more than 500 retailers, 1,500 customers, one watch and one Gas Monkey-customized 2018 Camaro. The program was based on the Japanese fascination with that most quintessential (provided you’re not a Mustang or Corvette aficionado) of American teenage dream muscle cars, the Camaro, which was interpreted by the Gas Monkey garage team to emulate the design aesthetics of the Seiko Coutura model SSC697 (currently out of production).
In the same vein as a reverse Transformer, Seiko had a watch turned into a car.
First there were toys
The Japanese / American car / watch phenomenon is historically exemplified by the massive international product and marketing juggernaut originally developed by Takara Toys in 1980: Transformers. Add to this mix the strong Japanese fascination with American motorcycle and military jackets, Levi’s jeans, Harley Davidson motorcycles and Detroit muscle cars, (Bumblebee Camaro of the Transformers series), and the logic behind Seiko’s campaign begins to make sense.
The Coutura SSC697 is not just any Seiko, however. It’s a special edition chronograph named after and influenced by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. One of Seiko’s Tokyo- based designers identified a strong link between the sleek, muscular lines of the Camaro and the planned Coutura model, leading to the unique treatment of this particular watch.
Johnson was tapped to embellish the SSC697, resulting in the selection of elements like the dial colors, which were emulated by Rawlings in the customization of the Camaro. The SSC697 features a black-ion-plated 45.5 mm stainless steel case, powered by a radio-controlled solar- powered quartz movement with a six-month power reserve.
It was a natural starting point for an outlandish twelve-month coast-to-coast campaign that generated interest in the brand, the product – and tied into an existing marketing juggernaut.
“We hooked up with Richard Rawlings for this project because he’s a latter-day George Barris, a larger than life customizer who also happens to be a watch guy. We knew he’s as detailed and conscientious about his customizations as our original designer, and Jimmie Johnson, were about this watch, and the treatment shows in every aspect, from the satin finish emulating the watch’s case, to the colors of blue and yellow, picking up the SSC697’s unique dial,” says Eric Hofmann, Senior VP of business development for Seiko North America.
Rawlings brought an over-the-top American showmanship to the Seiko campaign, touring the car across the country after a showy launch at Macy’s Herald Square on October 4th, 2018. Rawlings then travelled with the car to Chicago and California, in support of the dealer outreach program to gather entrants for the contest (no purchase necessary!)
The synergy between the grassroots outreach on the dealer level, supported by the multiple product tie-ins and the allure of the prize all contributed to an effective omnichannel marketing campaign with a strong focus on winning the attention of the targeted consumer.
“The relationship with the manufacturer, the dealer and the customer is a synergistic loop,” adds Hofmann. “We receive feedback on models from customer and dealers, which is then reflected in the products that we produce. The events we held in New York (Seiko Colors the Night), and now in Texas, serve to fortify that relationship and help us to create a clear connection between a specific of consumer and a specific watch family. These events enable us to solidify this critical base.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
The (almost final) pen stroke to the contest occurred on the grounds of the Gas Monkey Garage, where our story started. Seiko assembled twenty finalists and their respective dealers from around the country, with a couple of watch journalists, a watch blogger and the Gas Monkey TV crew on hand to document the occasion.
After multiple servings of Southern BBQ and riotous live southern rock punctuating several elimination rounds, the potential winners took the stage. Each one was issued an envelope with a color, and the winner would be revealed as Rawlings conducted a “professional burnout” with the Camaro, yielding clouds of oily colored smoke.
Rawlings wheeled out the car and stomped on the gas while holding down the brake, quickly catching the rear wheels on fire. Purple took the night, and the gleeful screams from a man from Wisconsin could be heard over the roaring engine yelling “I won!! I told you all! I won!!”
After a few minutes Rawlings shut down the car and the fire crew coated the tires and the rear end with flame suppressor. The man from the Badger state leaned into the smoky cockpit, sniffed, looked back at the crowd and sighed out loud, “I wonder how much it will cost to detail this.” Rawlings patted him on the back and steered him towards the nearest of several garage bars with the comforting words, “don’t worry about it son, when you see this car outside your door it’ll look good as new. Now let’s have some tequila and celebrate. You was right on brother!”
Seiko is taking a serious marketing run at delivering true brand / product / influencer associated experiences to their customers, while making their retailers an active part of the process. This type of hybrid sales / marketing approach engages all Seiko’s stakeholders in a focused effort, anchored around celebrity and third-party tie ins.
The key to success with this approach is maintaining it. Seiko made the tough call to close many retailer doors recently, upgrading their product perception and market cachet. The program of event driven engagements, like the recent Prospex / Coutura launch in New York, and now this car-culture-focused program, can be effective as long as it’s the beginning of something, and not just a one-off happening.
Seiko is hedging their bet with bankable celeb names like Johnson, Rawlings and Cousteau, a technique many watch companies rely on. Think Omega’s current Odd Squad of three actors, or Rolex spreading bets on no less than twenty “brand ambassadors.” If Seiko is truly committed to carving out strong niche markets, we should expect a Jimmie Johnson redux edition next year and a Fabien Cousteau Prospex.
To date Seiko has covered land and sea with their celebs, which leaves air (insert your favorite stunt pilot or astronaut name here), and the most challenging beachhead of all: customer mindshare.