PARIS — Tag Heuer is launching a Super Mario connected watch, marking the start of a long-term partnership with Nintendo and a push into gamification.
“We really wanted to work with Nintendo — Mario especially, the character of Mario, which has a lot of connections with the values of the brand — don’t crack under pressure, always outdo yourself and always be super active,” said Frédéric Arnault, chief executive officer of Tag Heuer, speaking to WWD at the Avenue Montaigne headquarters of the label’s parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
Designed to motivate users to be physically active, the timepiece carries a wellness bent, in keeping with the label’s focus on sports applications —with an added dimension of entertainment.
“We also wanted to make it fun — with extra animation,” added Arnault.
The famous gaming icon, known for his red cap and blue overalls, serves as a cheerleader, spurring the user along with a rewards system fashioned after the “Easter egg” formula of hidden surprises featured in video games.
For the consumer wearing the watch, the day starts out with a salute from Mario, and rewards are doled out every time a quarter of the full, daily step milestone is reached — like a super mushroom that prompts Mario to grow, the pipe that helps him speed up and the super star to make him invincible. The character climbs up the goal pole when the target is reached — as he does in the gaming realm.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about how to best build it, the heart of the experience is that we linked the Mario character with our wellness experience,” remarked Arnault.
The youngest of the Arnault clan to hold a CEO role at LVMH, the executive took the reins of Tag Heuer just over a year ago, moving into the position after developing a new generation of sports-oriented connected watches for the label — starting with a golf watch.
The brand carries an important role in the group when it comes to technology. While Louis Vuitton and Hublot also offer connected watches, the category is a strategic focus of development at Tag Heuer.
The watchmaker has been working with Google for its connected watches for several years — like the other two brands, its smartwatches rely on Google’s operating system Wear Os — and leans on the tech giant’s expertise in data, particularly for health-related applications.
“The use of data, for the client and the product, is an extremely important subject for us,” said Arnault, pointing to the key role of health topics when it comes to improving the performance of connected watches.
“They are investing a lot in this and have large quantities of data for which they already have machine learning algorithms — notably for heartbeats — so we collaborate with them on these subjects,” he said.
Golf, running and swimming are the main focus areas for the watchmaker, which recently launched a connected watch for pool swimming that counts laps.
“It was a project that took a bit of time to reach a high level of precision,” explained Arnault, noting it was technically challenging and called for extensive work with algorithms.
That watch is “among the best in the market — if not the best,” he asserted.
While individual labels within LVMH work independently — executives have stressed that brands would only share consumer data that is anonymous, for example — Tag Heuer can be considered a “spearhead for technology and innovation” within the luxury group, allowed the executive.
Last month, when LVMH unveiled a wide-sweeping deal with Google Cloud to speed up the development of cloud-based AI solutions to scale up its brands, Arnault took to French television channel BFM Business to speak about the move, on the sidelines of the VivaTech technology conference in Paris.
When it came to the label’s partnership with Nintendo, the emphasis was less on algorithms and more about design, noted Arnault.
“It was a lot about design and animation, about having the richness of animations without using up too much energy — that’s a real issue,” he said.
“As well as an impactful design — approved by Nintendo,” he added, explaining that the company has very stringent requirements when it comes to the Mario franchise.
“They are extremely detailed — down to the millimeter,” he said.
Teams from the two companies drew up a number of versions to come up with one that was best suited to the project, explained Arnault, describing the process as an exchange, a discussion.
“We came with a lot of ideas — some were accepted, and they built on them, carried them forward, while they were more reticent about others,” he said, noting that on the whole there was a lot of enthusiasm for the project.
The new timepiece, which is limited to 2,000, is priced at $2,150 and will be released on July 15, online and in select regions and brand boutiques.
Collaborations with Super Mario remain extremely limited, he added.
Tag Heuer was out to team up with an iconic brand, he continued.
“It takes time to become iconic, which is not something that disappears from one day to the next — Mario has reached this status,” said the executive.
“One of the key platforms of the label is their vision of wanting to put a smile on everyone’s face — when we speak about it, people start smiling right away,” he said.
Asked about the push into the fitness realm, Arnault suggested the added element of gamification serves to further motivate consumers to reach their objectives.
“More and more now, we track our data, and the simple fact of having this information every day, it serves to motivate, we want to do better — and if we set a goal, we want to reach it,” said the executive.
Looking to the future, Arnault sees potential in the gaming universe.
“This is a first step,” he said.
“It’s a fast-growing area, and the digital world has become increasingly important,” he said, adding that gaming offers access to a younger audience than usual when it comes to connected watches.
The brand continues to invest in connected watches, even if mechanical timepieces remain a core business, said Arnault, pointing out the market for connected watches is growing at around 20 percent.
While Tag Heuer is a market leader in places like the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, and does well in Japan and South Korea, its penetration in China remains low. The country is thus a strategic priority for the brand, he said, adding that it could take some time to build it up there.
“There’s a step between generating buzz and becoming a leader on the market,” he said, pointing out that many brands performing well have been there for over 20 years.
The company’s collaboration with Porsche, and its distinctive Monaco models are appreciated there he said.
And what about Super Mario?
“This product will be a success in China,” predicted Arnault.