The Gentleman Blogger founder Matthew Zorpas opens up about the exclusive partnership he has just signed with luxury watch brand IWC and shares the first images from the fresh campaign.
Earlier this week, luxury watch brand IWC announced that it had signed a first-ever ambassadorship contract with new influencer and The Gentleman Blogger founder Matthew Zorpas.
The tie-up marks a new chapter in the changing marketing and digital landscape and is set to send ripples through the watch industry.
Here, while the ink dries on the impressive deal, Zorpas talks to Luxury Society about the collaboration, the importance of long-term brand projects to foster credibility, authenticity and sales – and why he chose IWC as his creative ‘partner in crime’.
“ I’m working exclusively with IWC and this is a first. ”
Give me some background about this collaboration with IWC and why it’s so special?
Watches are a very strong and growing market for me, and I have worked with many watch brands for the last year and a half.
However, I signed the contract with IWC a while ago, although we couldn’t announce it just yet. We’ve just announced it now on April 20., and when it actually happened, I was just finishing projects with Omega, Hiker Girl, Chopard.
But now, I’m working exclusively with IWC and this is a first.
So it’s a very interesting announcement, for the watch industry at least. For me it’s also a privilege and the ‘next level’ of things.
“ Chopard was the first brand that kind of opened the door and opened my eyes to the watch sector ”
Originally when you started the blog, was it the initial plan to be targeting watch brands in particular or was it just overall fashion and lifestyle?
My background is in PR and communication. I’m coming from the business side of the industry mostly. That’s maybe why I kind of know my target audience and pay a lot of thought into that. The blog is going to be celebrating four years now during the summer.
It started as a a side hobby, but at the same time, I thought: “Okay, maybe this could be my chance to be in the fashion industry.” Of course that worked out fine. I got all the success and all the things that followed. I was always halfway between creativity and the business side of things. Actually from the first two weeks that I was running the blog, Armani Exchange contacted me and we were already working on a sponsor collaboration, then it was Tommy Hilfiger, launching their tailoring line. Then it was perfumes, I did the Gucci perfume, then it a watch brand. So it’s been an evolution. Lots of fashion brands, lots of luxury kind of premium luxury brands constantly. I worked everyone from Fendi to Dolce & Gabana, Gucci, all the Italian brands. Now we’re actually working with Burberry also.
Working specifically with the watch industry though, my first experience was actually with Chopard – that was my first big project for a watch brand and that was probably two years ago. We started there. I didn’t really have a watch background then, so Chopard was the first brand that kind of opened the door and opened my eyes to that sector. I was 26 then. I think it was the right kind of moment for me to start looking to the watch and understand what goes behind it, why there’s so much interest into the watch industry, why there’s so much history, heritage… And all of these facts around the watch and the man.
Then I started doing small watch brands and experiencing different ones. It was then that I kind of felt that I wanted to work on something something more stable, because the watch on my wrist had started to become a symbol of who I was as a man, and I was seeing that from the audience’s perspective as well. I just felt that it was absolutely wrong to change a watch constantly. That my audience themselves were getting confused because I was constantly switching… one month it is Omega and then I would jump into Chopard, then IWC, etc.
I think that worked well in terms of special additions, but I think I felt that it was such a powerful piece that it needed to focus on one brand, not necessarily the same watch, but at least one brand – because, particularly in luxury, people are really connected with brands and they are loyal to their brands. Every single brand they associate with a certain segment of all of th luxury industry. You have a car watch fan, you have a formula fan, and everybody selects specific watch brands as well.
That is where I kind of started talking to the brands to ensure that every single brand had a kind of a long term vision. So if I was working for one specific project with Omega, then I’d settle on three follow-up projects after, to add some continuity our relationship.
“ You constantly need to remind them of what is there. I think a lot of brands haven’t yet realised that transition ”
Do you think it’s important to engage in longer term projects with specific brands that you relate to personally, to secure greater credibility with your audience?
I think it is about credibility, but it’s also about being organic. It is also about influencing in a certain way, because again a brand comes to me as an influencer, but what we do is so instant, and it has the attention span … actually probably for one or two minutes that you have on Instagram. After that it registers as a digital image, it registers as a caption, but you constantly need to remind them of what is there. I think a lot of brands haven’t yet realised that transition, they all think that as soon as a post is liked, it’s like: “Oh wow we’ve sold it”.
They don’t understand of course, that we actually do is actually place a message to create brand awareness, that these watch brands are doing this, these watch brands actually exist in today’s market, and to a very younger audience that I’m also taking the responsibility to educate. If I take myself as an example – my dad didn’t have the watch knowledge, so where do I get this watch knowledge? Because I don’t buy watch magazines, I don’t buy Esquire magazine, I don’t buy any newspaper, so all the brand information I get is from Facebook, Instagram and all of my other social media platforms.
“ I felt that reporting from a personal perspective, as an influencer – I needed stability with a brand ”
There is nobody actually sharing this story except if you actually follow the brand, but how do I find those brands? Where do I find them? What does IWC stand for, how do I understand what Omega stands for?
So I felt that reporting from a personal perspective, as an influencer – I needed stability with a brand, to find the knowledge and share the knowledge there, the experience.
I wanted my relationship with a watch brand to be an organic relationship, because it just felt weird of changing watches every single month to support somebody else in creating content for all of these different brands, so I felt that it was the right approach for me. Again just what it symbolises, the connection you get with a watch.
I didn’t feel right changing all the time. Even the reality of it all – money-wise – it almost felt like I was saying to my fans: “Okay I’m taking out $25,000-30,000 a month to get a new watch” – and that’s not the case, so it felt like even encouraging this consumption was just wrong. Because nobody actually does that these days. I wanted something stable and organic and reflect an actual realistic lifestyle for the readers I have who are in a particular stage of life where they can invest in one watch or two or three – but not a new watch every month!
Hopefully and I think more brands will realise that and start going into that direction. Because, again, I work with all different types of brands and I’m super happy with all of the teams, but I feel that getting older and to really reflect that target market that I write for and be authentic, I’ll be looking more and more into stable kind of ambassadorships and collaborations.
For example there is one alcohol brand we work with. And drinking is not my favourite thing – but if I am going to drink something, I am going to drink that particular brand, because it is actually my favourite.
“ Why would I promote five different watches in one year? It doesn’t make any sense. ”
I’m not going to start drinking every single brand of alcohol – because at my age now, I have experienced all of them and then I know what I really like to drink. Therefore, I would like a drinking sponsor to come in and support me exclusively – instead of one brand, and then another brand. Stocking to one shows loyalty, it shows … it has a much more powerful message. It has a stronger impact.
Why would I promote five different watches in one year? It doesn’t make any sense. Do I change perfume five times a day? No. I have one perfume, or maybe two perfumes depending on the seasons. So if we communicate that, and if we manage to have relationships with that specific brand we really enjoy, it’s better.
Our audience also gets tired of that. Because of the advertising, the sponsorships, constantly… it was a contradictory message.
“ IWC was first one to actually open the doors to me and be willing to diversify the idea ”
So, why IWC? *
From my discussions with other influencers as well, friends of mine, the problem is that we feel that we become like a digital magazine that is constantly advertising, advertising, advertising something.
Of course we can do it, but again the watch we wear goes back to this kind of status symbol, so it shouldn’t work that way.
IWC was probably the most welcoming brand to support me into this idea. The first one to actually open the doors to me in terms of this and be willing to diversify the idea.
Actually this is the first ambassadorship, for me, for IWC, but it is also a first ahead of any other watch firms. None of the influencers, even the very, very top tier ones, have ever worked exclusively for a brand specifically.
I found IWC was the right one, because they are understated in the bling, unlike the really loud watch makers. They also have very few ambassadors and entrances in terms of celebrity endorsements.
So, basically, IWC opened the doors to this idea or working together more exclusively, so we agreed a few months ago to sign an exclusive contract – and it’s my biggest contract to date.
“ I have 120,000 followers, all around 28 or 30 years old ”
What did that conversation evolve, in setting up this arrangement?
I think it revolved around both of us understanding how we could create a real impact. How I could translate my traffic, how to pass the message to a younger generation, via the influence that I have – 120,000 followers, all around 28 or 30 years old – to teach them about a quality brand to invest in.
We had that discussion about the fact that I felt I needed that stability of the message, so I was like: “Okay, of course I can cover a specific brand, a special project that you guys sponsoring, that I report on, that I have on my wrist throughout. I explained that everybody is looking to my wrist to check what watch I’m wearing. It has this strong impact.
Then of course it was the legal stuff, rates – because from my side I would be losing all of that kind of money because I needed to remain exclusive to one brand.
“ I think this is a great moment to turn the game around ”
Do you think this exclusive contract you’ve signed now with IWC marks a turning point in the influencer landscape?
I think this is a great moment to turn the game around. I think influencers need to come out and say: “I don’t want you to dictate how or which product I promote from your whole collection. I prefer THIS product, which I choose and I wear or drink or eat – and I would like to work with you on THIS product.”
And, I think brands are becoming a bit more open to doing that. So, hopefully they will continue that, more and more, even in fashion.
Brands have to be more open to the influencer’s creative process also – to achieve a better result for both sides.
Often, they are so specific because they have a specific thing that they want to to promote. But it limits me creatively, and I think it limits everyone creatively, so we need to get them to be more open and again that is, going back to the IWC, why I felt that this was the right brand to link with. That they are open and they want my understanding.
So, IWC is open to that?
Yes. They are very forward thinking. That’s why I wanted to work with them. For example, we have in the contract that I meet with them once a month – the whole global team, the global director, the UK team – and we will be going through what I want to do, how do I see myself involved, which watch I see in which country, and going through my own journey to discover the watch and how I want to discover it.
We choose the story. Because we need to make our story relevant, because a false idea doesn’t work anymore, and we know that. That is why the market is in some decline. Getting in step with this new idea and creating new, engaging and credible content is essential to survive.