Dating back to tradition, superiority and extravagancy

When one would go out on the street and conduct a survey asking people what they associate with Rolex, the first answers would surely be watches, luxury and expensive. But if you came across sports enthusiasts, their answers might include – among the ones mentioned above – other answers as well: Formula 1, Sailing, Golf, Tennis and equestrian tournaments.

Rolex has a long tradition of sponsoring sports tournaments which dates back into the 1920s.

In 1927, Mercedes Gleitze, a British young women who was training long distance swimming, attempted to swim the English channel from France. And although she didn’t succeed in her first attempt (but actually needed eight attempts), this act made her very popular in England, giving her the status of a starlet who fought strongly for her dreams and career goals.

Mercedes Gleite entering the English channel in 1927 wearing a Rolex Oyster

Rolex, or rather Hans Wildorf, realized the potential in the young British woman and approached her to wear their Rolex Oster during crossing the channel. The fit between their watch, which was extremely innovative in being that waterproof at that time, and Mercedes Gleitze was seemingly perfect. Rolex made a strong effort to attach the values people saw in her to their watch and their brand, and they succeeded. She was wearing the watch around her neck when she successfully crossed the channel and in the aftermath Rolex continued to market its watch as a wonder watch which defied the elements, using Mercedes Gleitze as a cover girl for their starting advertisement.

Mercedes was the first endorsed by Rolex and one of the first women in general getting that much recognition for her sports career. Even today,  Rolex thrives to endorse people with an extraordinary personality, exceeding their competitors in their fields and, thus, conveying the resemblance of superiority between them and Rolex.

Poster Ad for the Rolex Oster

Today, Rolex stands for elite sports, challenges and, surely, art. If the brand searched for a celebrity to endorse, it would have to be someone who could represent exactly these values, for obviously the overall goal of sponsorship is to result into a positive outcome. Each company searches for a perfect fit while appealing to their target group. For Rolex, this would mainly be sophisticated, graduated men with a salary of over $200,000 which identify themselves with the prestigious image of the brand. They have a fondness of luxury products, their aesthetics, quality and class.

According to Namara (2010), there are two main effects of sponsoring: First, the charisma and/or personality of the celebrity is transferred to a corporation. And secondly, people are generally interest in famous personalities: their choice in cloth, cars and accessories become fashionable and will influence sales of brands they collaborate with.

However, if celebrities fall from public admiration and turn into a negative perception, this can also set a brand at risk. This is why every company will choose very carefully who they want to endorse on different levels of engagement. Belch & Belch (2009) determine five key criteria which need to be considered in every celebrity before signing a deal: Current perception of the target audience and the general public; knowledge and expertise; trustworthiness; attraction and exposure level.

In 2011, Rolex decided to engage into a new endorsement deal with an athlete of a torn reputation – Tiger Woods. And although undoubtedly he was one of the best at his game (golf, for those who do not know), he had caused a huge scandal in 2009, being found cheating on his wife and being part of several outrageous events, so that many of his sponsors immediately ended their collaboration. He had effectively lost his attraction and trustworthiness towards fans and supporters.
Two years had passed, but why did Rolex not get scared away but the undoubtedly rather risky personality to put your brand value’s trust in? In fact, Rolex considers everything more than twice and in an official statement the company stated that they were convinced Tiger Woods still had a great career in front of him and would present the brand well, having learned from his past mistakes. Surely enough, Tiger Woods presence in the papers has turned back to sports and its origins and kept his private life rather quite. If he manages to keep it that way, Rolex will continue to have an athlete at their disposal which is a little extravagant, bold enough to stand out from his fellow competitors and one of the best at his field. A guy Rolex target group can identify with and admire form the distance.

Among the other sports Rolex sponsors or endorses in, Formula 1 is one of the greatest, costing the company a real fortune each year and race. The watch company is not only main and long-term partner of the racing series as well as official timepiece partner , but also comes along as principal partner of single races.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany, center, winner, celebrates on the podium with Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia, left, second place and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, third place, at the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Rolex started early on to sponsor motor races and continues this tradition. The two go along very well, being and staying a dream to many people for their whole level, representing an elite which not everyone can afford or understands, but owes much respect and tradition. This also attracts a younger generation which one day might be able to afford a Rolex after they grew up watching Formula 1.  Both, Formula 1 and Rolex, embody the spirit of adventure, superlative engineering and a strong desire to push the limits of technology.

Also, at the Formula 1 circus one normally finds not only people would adore the brand but cannot afford it, but also the elite which actually spends a lot of money on watches and status symbols. These are the people Rolex needs to convince that they are still their number one partner, that a man of prestige and love for fast cars and an honest battle buys a Rolex but not a Audemars Piguet or Omega. Obviously, Formula 1 also offers a superb media presence and ensures that Rolex will always be present in the media or the social web, although the company itself likes to keep it a little quite and elevated.

Arnaud Boetsch, Rolex SA Communication and Image Director, puts the long partnership into these words: „Our unique partnership with the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix is the culmination of the brand’s history of close ties with the exciting world of motor sport and speed. Now launching our fourth season with Formula 1, we share a passion for performance, precision and innovation, founded on our pursuit of excellence in technology“ (Formula 1 Official, 2016).

Overall, it becomes apparent that by the choices of sports and athletes Rolex invests in they follow a very straight line, only working together with those who will surely make an outstanding impression. The watch industry stands under continuous, force competition and with its Sponsoring efforts Rolex thrives to establish its difference form the digital/smartwatch market, only associating itself with high quality, an urge for perfection and the unordinary classic.

Alix Rekersbrink



Business Insider (2011). Rolex Just Signed Tiger Woods To His First Major Endorsement Deal Since His String Of Affairs. Retrieved from

Chambers, C. An Advertiser’s Dream: The Construction of the “Consumptionist” Cinematic Persona of Mercedes Gleitze. Retrieved from

Davis, C. et al (2013). Tiger Woods now wears Rolex. Journal of Case Studies, 31(1), 96-109.

Formula 1 Official (2016). Rolex in pole position as Australia’s F1 Title Sponsor. Retrieved from–.html.

Lesa Ukman Perspective (2011). Sponsorship Watch: Luxury Timepieces. Retrieved from–Luxury-Timepieces.aspx.

McNamara, S. (2010). How to create strategic advertising campaigns: Learn cutting edge
trends in branding, positioning and direct response ads retrieved from multimedia CD on May 12, 2012.



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