When Complicated Is Good


When it comes to products, “complicated” is rarely a compliment. Would you buy a computer advertised as “complicated?” A piece of furniture that claimed, “complex assembly required?” An automobile that promoted the fact that it had a complicated fuel injection system? In each case, those descriptions would be a drag on sales, as they suggest either extra effort on the part of the consumer, or a higher probability of needing costly maintenance. Would a maker of fine watches be crazy to advertise a product as “the most complicated” wristwatch?

In addition to calling their 1735 model “the most complicated wristwatch,” luxury watchmaker Blancpain promotes it using a major tab on their website called “Complications.” If “complicated” is often a pejorative, “complications” is even worse. The most common usage (at least in American English) is related to negative medical outcomes. (“The heart surgery seemed to go well, but there were complications…”) It seems that the usage of this word often has an implied “unexpected” prefix, as in, “The firms were ready to sign the merger documents, but complications arose.” I can’t think of a way that the term is used in a positive, or even neutral, sense.

So, is Blancpain crazy?

I think not. Blancpain is building on the strategy I described in Does Your Product Have Enough Flaws?. Complexity is a “flaw” of all mechanical watches. They are filled with little gears and other microscopic hardware. These mechanisms require periodic maintenance, and can fail more easily than a totally electronic model. Rather than avoid the issue of complexity, though, Blancpain embraces it for their 1735 model and the rest of their product line.

With a price in the range of $800,000, the 1735 is not a mere timekeeper. In essence, Blancpain is saying, “Anyone can own a simple quartz watch. Discriminating buyers prefer fine mechanical watches, despite their complexity. And, for the MOST discriminating buyer, we have the most complex watch of all!” Overall, Blancpain seems to trying to establish themselves as the “brand of complexity” in the luxury watch market.

Few of us market wristwatches with a price approaching a million dollars. (Even fewer of us are likely to buy one!) But we can learn from Blancpain’s approach. If your product has an attribute that some might consider undesirable, is there a way to perform marketing jiu-jitsu and turn that attribute into something that might attract a segment of your potential buyers? There’s certainly some risk with an approach that highlights a potentially negative trait, but if successful doing so might be a million-dollar solution.

What do you think of Blancpain’s strategy: crazy, or clever?

  1. @matpsic says

    That is the way to build a luxury brand.

    For example, in Spain there is a nougat’s brand that says “The most expensive nougat in the world”.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Better “most expensive” than “most chewy” nougat! 🙂


  2. Marek says

    I think this is just a misunderstanding. In horology, complication basically means an added function – eg. if the wristwatch shows current moonphase, it is said to have one added complication. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complication_%28horology%29

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Excellent point, Marek, and thanks for the reference. So, perhaps instead of brilliant marketing Blancpain is merely using jargon unlikely to be understood by non-horologists?

      Either way, I think it works for them.


  3. Marek says

    Yes, it’s unfortunately not a case of brilliant marketing, it’s merely the same as a car manufucturer saying that the new model is the fastest/safest/most comfortable, only using a jargon a potential buyer would understand.

  4. Cyrus says

    “Blancpain seems to [be] trying to establish themselves as the “brand of complexity” in the luxury watch market.”

    Complication has been the bread and butter of ultra-luxury watches for at least a hundred years. Yes, it refers to the addition of functions, but it also refers to complication for the sake of complication. As these are works of art, the complexity is an expression of mastery of that art. Other expressions include making the most robust mechanical watch, or the deepest diver, the most accurate, etc. Complexity in watches was almost never seen as a negative feature except when designing for a particular mission. A mechanical watch that is simple enough to be practical, reliable and cheap is relatively undesirable, particularly in the digital age when accuracy can be added to the mix while simultaneously reducing cost.

    Complexity here is a flourish, in the same manner as a 16-cylinder, quad-turbo Bugatti with two separate cooling systems is both less utilitarian and more desirable than a 8-cylinder, twin-turbo Koenigsegg for many people in the tiny club of potential customers for either. As you move up the scale, the tendency is for complication to take on value in tandem with performance, and the tradeoffs in terms of maintenance to detract less and less from that value.

    Rather than “trying to establish themselves as the ‘brand of complexity,'” Blancpain is merely playing skillfully in a long-established market in which complexity is the norm and a common goal of all ultra-luxury makers. Like the race for the world’s strongest beer, you are forced to wait longer, pay more, consume less, and enjoy that particular feature for entirely different reasons than you might enjoy the occasional Budweiser, not the least of which is the exclusivity that accompanies scarcity. In both cases, it’s not about the functionality anymore–it’s about the show.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      “it’s not about the functionality anymore–it’s about the show”
      I couldn’t agree more, Cyrus, particularly in the luxury watch area. If I wanted functionality, I could buy a quartz Timex that would keep better time than even the best mechanical movements. The issue of complexity (and added features/”complications”) goes directly to the essential luxury attribute of requiring extreme expertise and many hours of human craftsmanship.


  5. Alexandre says

    Sometimes to be clever you have to be crazy!

  6. Megan Zuniga says

    It’s an interesting approach. Complexity may actually work on some while not on others. Like for computers and cellphones, and some gadgets. People wouldn’t want something so complicated they couldn’t work it out. But as for some products like artworks, from paintings to even movies. People want complexity and definitely something out of the ordinary. Maybe even complexity and simplicity rolled into one.
    I don’t know about watches, but aren’t they supposed to be complicated anyway. The more complex, the better?

  7. James says

    There are some who seem to misunderstand Luxury Watches. The term “complications” has been used since at least the 1700s to describe additional features and functions that occur on the watch itself. It’s not a secret, like the “off-menu” menu at In-n-Out. It’s just a “term of art” that watch-liking people use with one another. It’s also shorthand, meaning that the watch (technically “timepiece”) does more than just record the passing of hours and minutes. It’s called a complication because the WORKS (the inside of the watch) are more complicated; extra gears, extra wheels, some things going backward, something that makes the watch MORE complex, but not in the sense that it makes it harder to OWN, just harder to build.

    A really well-made watch is enjoyed because it can have complications, and still be an elegant timepiece.

    Of course, if you don’t execute all those complications with precision and finesse, it really could backfire. So in a sense, I suppose you COULD be hoist on your own complications. But those risks are why some people, myself included, enjoy timepieces with complications. Anything else is just, well, a watch.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.