SAVOIR FAIRE Old timers: The vintage ‘70s ads that made Heuer tick

5 min

Dialing back to the golden age of TAG Heuer advertising.

Rewind time with us and Ad Patina, a world-leading authority in vintage watch advertisements, as we reflect on previous decades of Heuer and TAG Heuer history, as immortalised in unforgettable campaigns.

In the age of flower power, Heuer was looking for a bit of firepower in its marketing department. The groovy ‘70s was a roller coaster decade for not just the world, but for the watchmaking industry too. To get through the ups and downs of the time, the brand teamed up with the advertising world. Heuer was keen to keep its watches ticking in people’s minds. And what better way to do that than to use the art of persuasion? So we dug into the archives, dialed back time and found a whole range of iconic, illuminating, insightful ads. Each one gives us a sense of the era, the revolutionary Heuer timepieces released in the ‘70s and the thinking behind them. You won’t want to skip these ads.

1969 “Heuer chronographs are now automatic.”

Heuer wasn’t the first watch company to announce an automatic chronograph (that was Zenith with its “El Primero”). But Heuer arguably – and fittingly – won the “race” along with its Project 99 teammates, Hamilton-Buren and Breitling, to produce and sell the first self-winding chronographs. Heuer’s models were widely available for sale in the summer of 1969.

This ad isn’t from the 1970s but it can be classified as a ‘70s ad. That’s because the models featured would become the most successful (and most sought after) Heuer wristwatches from that decade. The ad does more than simply bring awareness to Heuer’s new line, it announces it with a bold tone. Just like the watches themselves, which made a statement with their radical new looks. There are so many details in the ad that capture your attention. The emphatic headline proclaiming a new age for watches (not just for Heuer but for the industry). Those color images of the redesigned, left-crowned Carerra, Autavia and all-new, square case Monaco. The Monaco was perhaps strategically positioned at the top to highlight its newness. Fair enough.

1970 “The wrist-computer”

Reengineering their watches with the Calibre 11 movement presented the perfect opportunity for Heuer to create something new. Something radical. Something like the “avant-garde” Monaco, as Jack Heuer called it in his autobiography. Over five decades later, the Monaco’s unique square case has come to symbolize Heuer. It’s still appreciated and respected by watch enthusiasts and collectors everywhere.

The headline was a clever way of succinctly capturing and marketing the features and functions of Heuer’s many chronographs. But perhaps the true genius of the headline, whether calculated or coincidental, was how it foreshadowed the Heuer models that followed. Especially the timepieces from the second half of the decade, which housed a more computer-like quartz movement.

Among the many versions of this ad, this one stands out from the rest. It’s a larger size and it’s printed on smoother paper, which makes the picture quality of the TV-shaped Monaco crystal clear. Something beautiful to just look at and admire.

1970 “Two-timing playmate”

This ad isn’t being highlighted because of its looks or layout. It isn’t here because of the way it points out technical details. Or the way it describes the practicality of the Monaco. We chose it because it’s an example of advertising from a different era. An era that frequently used risqué copy to get attention and sell products. 

In this case, the headline and subhead were innuendos with, ahem, overt connotations. By combining the words “playmate”, “beauty” and “two-timing”, the reader’s mind was free to roam in the world of double entendres. The effectiveness of the ad leaned on intriguing male consumers through the suggestive tone. It also hinted at an aspirational, playboy lifestyle. In many ways, this ad was a reflection of a very different time.

It’s important for these old ads to be taken into context. The messaging may not be on brand or in tune with today’s culture, but we can use it as a barometer. A measure of how far brands, the advertising industry and the world have come. Looking back at these ads can spark much-needed discussions, and show us a better way forward.

1972 “This $200 Heuer chronograph - yours for only $88.”

Among the most well-known Heuer advertising campaigns (and maybe the most effective) is the “Viceroy” Autavia. Essentially, you could purchase the watch by sending $88 plus one Viceroy cigarette carton end flap via post.

Today the Viceroy, and similar references, are among the darlings of vintage Heuer wristwatches (up there with 1960s Carreras). While the popularity of the model has endured, the way it was sold in 1972 has certainly fallen out of favor. For decades now, advertising promoting cigarettes has been banned for obvious reasons. But this ad here is an example of the many ideas Heuer employed to generate sales, even in the face of the Quartz Crisis.

1973 “Heuer doesn’t make ordinary watches.”

If you really want to experience and understand a brand or a popular model, seek out their old ads. Take this particular Heuer ad for example. It doesn’t feature the models we know best and love most. Instead, it shows the supporting cast, the extras if you will, that played an integral role in telling the story of Heuer.

Back in the early 1970s, Heuer was so much more than the Autavia, Carrera and Monaco. The company probably wouldn’t have survived that decade if it wasn’t for these bread and butter products. This ad reminds us of that. By showcasing these bit part players, the ad highlights Heuer’s passion for watches and watchmaking. It’s fascinating to see a black and white ad, with no splashy models, adding color to the Heuer story. Take a moment to soak in the copy and study the images. It’s like opening a window into a different time.

The headline about not making “ordinary watches” perfectly sums up Heuer at this point in the company’s history. The colorful, niche stopwatches, dashboard timers and random chronographs, like the Calculator, may not be easy on the eye for today’s audiences. They may not be as valuable as the hero models. But every piece is a part of Heuer’s extraordinary DNA. In fact, Heuer wouldn’t be the company it is if it wasn’t for the breadth of its portfolio. Here’s to the unsung watches of Heuer.

1974 “The 1974 wrist computers.”

It’s 1974, and the “wrist computers” campaign is still going strong. By featuring the Calculator watch, the headline is now as accurate as the accuracy of that model, which can convert gallons to liters.

Those Autavias flanking the Calculator could be the stars of the ad. They could also be the main topic of conversation here, considering their lineage and practical applications for pilots (the ad’s target market), but that’s too easy. Like the watch, it’s more interesting (and more fun) to focus on the Calculator. The unusual watch, advertised as the centerpiece of this beautiful color ad, is a worthy stand-in for lesser-known models like the Silverstone, Montreal, Easy Rider and Temporada. Ads for these off the beaten path chronos are few and far between, if they exist at all. But through this ad, they are well-represented. And their history isn’t forgotten, thanks to the prominent placement of the Calculator.

Producing a watch like the Calculator demonstrates Heuer’s commitment to precision. And as the “world leader in short-time measurement” and the fact that Heuer “makes 1 out of every 4 stopwatches sold in the world”, it’s no surprise that the watchmaker would continue to develop timekeeping devices using the latest technology.

1975 "It's New Now: Two-in-one digital watch"

During the second half of the decade, Heuer responded to the Quartz Crisis with the Chronosplit. It was a quartz-powered wristwatch featuring LCD and LED displays. Their stopwatch lineup also evolved with the Microsplit, which at the time, was the world’s smallest electronic stopwatch. 

Since the Chronosplit and Microsplit aren’t timekeepers that immediately come to mind when we think of Heuer, this is a great opportunity to show you this “advertorial”.

Instead of a traditional full or half-page magazine ad, what you see here is an article highlighting Heuer products, written by a columnist. Pieces like this were very common in magazines during the 1960s and 1970s. But they were taken seriously, like any other advertising medium. Publications would review and share products with their readers. As you can see, the innovative Chronosplit is included amongst other novel products of the day. (Note the buddy biking system).

Ultimately the Chronosplit (and Microsplit) didn’t stand the test of time. As it so often goes, they were outdated by more advanced technology. They didn’t have the same nostalgia, design language or usefulness as analog products. Nevertheless, they are important chapters in Heuer’s history.

Ad Patina, our guide on this journey back in time, is a trusted authority in vintage watch advertisements and sourcer extraordinaire when it comes to this particular kind of printed matter from yesteryear.

Until next time…