Behind the scenes at Art Basel with TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver and his new brand ambassador, Alec Monopoly.
By: Jennifer Parker
A white-hot Lamborghini, covered in cartoonish graffiti, is parked outside Cipriani restaurant on the Miami River waterfront, apparently without an owner.
Soon enough, street artist Alec Monopoly—an alias inspired by the board game banker—appears to claim it. He is being fêted tonight as the new “Art Provocateur” for Tag Heuer. It’s a new title, loosely defined as a brand ambassador who is strategically announced and promoted on the first night of Art Basel Miami Beach, North America’s most influential annual art fair. It’s an unusual step for the Swiss watchmaker, which, under the direction of CEO Jean-Claude Biver, is “investing in the future.”
So far, it’s working like a charm. Photographers swarm as Monopoly leans against his Lambo, his trademark top hat hanging over his eyes, and a bright red bandana covering his mouth—giving off the impression of a bandit, who got away with the gaggle of gold chains hanging in a V-shape over his black t-shirt. But the most important fashion statement here are the two silver, diamond-encrusted Tourbillon Chronograph Tag Heuer watches wrapped around both wrists. Almost instantaneously, the image of this brand is shared with Monopoly’s nearly half-a-million Instagram followers, and saved for future marketing materials.
TAG Heuer’s two-day Basel event, which comprised two separate dinners, flashy afterparties, and the unveiling of Mr. Monopoly’s 160-foot mural outside the Mondrian South Beach Hotel, might not impress the watch world glitterati of London or Geneva. But Miami has its own definition of cool, and Biver is determined to use it to his brand’s advantage.
Given his track record, one cannot discount this strategy. As head of LVMH’s watch division, Biver is known for resurrecting brands such as Blancpain, Omega, Zenith and Hublot. During Basel, I spoke with Biver about the future of Tag Heuer. Here, an excerpt from the interview:
What are the key principles behind marketing a luxury watch brand?
Never hurt the brand. Keep the DNA of the brand. You are a servant of the brand. Many CEOs believe that they are the boss of the brand. No, I say—never! The brand is my boss. How can I ask this brand from 1860 to change? It’s not my responsibility. I just need to guide it into the next century.
As soon as you do that, you have an advantage. You can rely on 150 years of the past. I’ve seen people in this industry try to kill the brand’s past. No, we must maintain continuity.
How do you reconcile that idea with your fallout with McLaren?
[Biver cut ties with McLaren Automotive after what was a 30-year long collaboration.]
It was a sponsorship with McLaren, and instead, we needed collaboration. If a partner doesn’t want to do more than just what is the normal requirement, then I am entitled to say: You don’t give me what I need. We needed event marketing, not just our brand name on a car. If you believe that’s enough, you are a bloody idiot. Omega was the first brand that said, it is not enough for James Bond to wear the watch in a film. You must exploit it. We must promote, activate, advertise.
What does it mean to “activate” a brand?
I mean creating zero separation with the customer. Brands must ask: How long will I be separated from my customer? If he goes to watch football on Sunday, our brand is there. But once a week is not enough for us. If I lose him, he might go with another brand.
Which means I have to have a presence in other fields, where he will be—be it sports, music, or art. Where will he be on Monday? He will read a sailing magazine because this summer he wants to go. Boom, I must be there. And so on. If I achieve zero separation, then, unconsciously, the customer gets the idea that I belong to his world or his lifestyle.
Apply that to Alec Monopoly. Can a street artist attract your customers?
Yes, of course. He connects with our customers of tomorrow. I’m not interested in the customers of today. I cannot spend my money on people who are my age  and who are going to die with me. I have to spend on people who are going to develop their life once I’m dead. That’s the future.
Nowadays, the new generation just wants to disconnect from their parents. You cannot talk to this new generation they way you talk to their parents. They are interested in their world, their philosophy, their own street art. You have to adapt to them. It’s not the younger generation who will adapt to you.