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What We Can Learn From Watch Enthusiast Humor On Instagram

What We Can Learn From Watch Enthusiast Humor On Instagram 02Instagram for watch enthusiasts, collectors, and lovers of horology can provide many things — including humor. For some watch lovers, Instagram is a place to share their latest acquisitions, or what they chose to wear on any particular day, with friends. For others, it is a place to judge what pieces tend to be popular with other collectors. For many, it is a place to gauge, with various levels of accuracy, what other timepiece enthusiasts and collectors feel about hot issues of the day. Satire and comedy is a time-honored approach to discussing challenging or deeply political issues — a practice that appears to be flourishing on wristwatch social media feeds. Let’s take a look at a sampling of what watch collector humor looks like on Instagram these days. First, a bit of a macro-conversation about consumer sentiment on social media, in general.

Watch brands are already keenly studying consumer sentiment on Instagram, though many are guilty of taking statements too personally. Brand managers are known to react harshly to what are, in reality, private conversations among groups of collectors. Stories of money being pulled from media, brands being pulled from retailers, and jobs summarily terminated, all stemming from the publication of sentiment or opinion are unfortunately all too common. This has compelled many of the most prolific critics of watch industry practices on social media to be protectively anonymous about their identities.

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While transparency in media is preferred, society tends to offer an exception to those standing up for ethical discussions when real and present dangers exist if their actual identity is made known. So is the power of large corporate-owned watch brands that — under threat of draconian bosses — seek to quash all “negativity” online, no matter its appropriateness. In this regard, watch enthusiast humorists have a special heroic status among the community, given their openness to discussing tough issues or calling someone out.

At its worst, Instagram watch collector humor is crude and mean-spirited. Much published watch humor focuses on attacking brands and product models whose designs and prices are not personally to the liking of the poster. This can have the effect of shaming people into purchasing “safe,” albeit unoriginal, watches and preventing more expressive and individualistic choices that help make the watch collecting hobby well-rounded for a global assortment of tastes and lifestyles.

At its best, Instagram watch collector humor is poignant and meaningfully activist in nature. The traditionally closed doors of watch brand boardrooms and the lack of open discussions about real-world consumer problems are exposed and even celebrated by the watch collector community on social media. Instagram appears to currently be the platform of choice for mostly anonymous satirists who poke fun at the watch world while, at the same time, slyly suggesting where improvements can be made. In my opinion, the real value of watch collector humor on Instagram is that it does the very necessary job of helping consumers to not only question propagandist content unwittingly presented to them but also to ask watch consumers to question their own collecting and purchasing behavior.

With watch brand managers already having made it clear they will not self-police when it comes to unsustainable business practices, only market forces (consumer behavior) will lead to system and policy change within the industry that produces the products so many people admire.

I’ve also come to the interesting conclusion that Instagram might be a very poor place for novices to learn about watch collecting and enthusiasm. During a recent speech and in some interviews, I made the statement that people just getting into timepieces might want to avoid looking at watches on Instagram for the first three to five years of their journey as a collector. Only after that might they be well-equipped enough with knowledge and experience to navigate the world of opinions and pictures on the popular Facebook-owned social media platform.

Why, exactly? At first, my recommendation against using Instagram for novices might seem counterintuitive. Isn’t Instagram valuable as a discovery engine, allowing fresh collectors to become exposed to the larger world of wristwatch brands and model choices? While Instagram may have been useful as a watch product discovery tool in the past, in more recent years, the changing content-display algorithms on Instagram have almost entirely eroded away at the platform’s ability to truly expose consumers to the larger variety of watches out there.

Studying the Instagram platform today reveals that users whom the platform deems to be interested in the topic of timepieces tend to be shown posts about the same watch brands, and the same watch models, over and over again. This leads consumers to believe there is a much smaller assortment of choices or that there is a much smaller assortment of watches that interest enthusiasts. A number of watch collectors I polled seem to be experiencing this, and it falls in line with Instagram’s own interests to show what it deems to be popular content to users so that they stay on the platform for as long as possible. Users perceive Instagram as automatically introducing them to content they might like but don’t know to search for. The reality is that Instagram — when browsed as a watch lover — tends to repeat a few key models from about five to six watch brands, as opposed to opening up the larger universe of timepiece appreciation and variety to the user.

The reality is that if you are in search of new watches to be interested in, Instagram appears to be a relatively poor choice today. Of course, I can advocate for the human-curated selection of watches on editorial publications such as aBlogtoWatch (and others), as well as simply browsing large multi-brand retail platforms online ranging from eBay to brand-authorized dealers, as a way to discover new brands and models.

It is probably for the better that only mature watch lovers (after they have purchased a number of watches over a three- to five-year period of time) participate in the watch collecting community on Instagram because much of the best humor and satire on the platform is very “inside baseball,” insofar that most novices would not get the joke. After looking at a cross-section of watch enthusiast comedy posts on social media, certain trends emerge that describe what is on the minds of watch enthusiasts and what they are frustrated about.

The social commentary (comedy or otherwise) about watch collecting on Instagram falls into three main categories. First is commentary about watch industry or brand practices. This involves product and brand marketing, sentiment about retail and buying watches, as well as the experience of owning and servicing watches. Much of this commentary is similar to how people might poke fun at politicians, local government, and dealing with government officials. Thus, there is a particular focus on pointing out unfairness, greed, hypocrisy, social scandals, ignorance and irony, and generally obnoxious behavior or pretentiousness. Anyone interested in political humor on the Internet (classy or crude) will find this entertaining.

The second area of discussion relates to commentary about particular watches — often about the five or six primary brands that Instagram tends to display in Instagram feeds. Sentiment ranges from poking fun at watch designs to their prices and functionality. A particular area of focus seems to be comparing watches to other memes, visual objects, or people. The community seems to have particular brands that appear to get undue negative commentary that at times seems unfair. This isn’t surprising, however, because in all enthusiast communities I’ve been exposed to, a few select brands or products always appear to be the preferred butt of jokes.

That said, when you see a timepiece you personally dislike visually, it can bring a guilty sense of glee to giggle at someone else publicly insulting it. The opposite can be true when a product or brand you personally enjoy seems to be unfairly harpooned. Seasoned collectors tend to have more confidence and such behavior probably doesn’t affect their sentiments much, but I do worry about newer watch enthusiasts being shamed away from taking interest in brands that the community appears at first glance to joke around about. What particularly bothers me about this practice isn’t that it is very funny and correct, at times, but rather that if you look at the watches that are insulted most, they are those with more modern, original designs. Contrast that with the watches that appear to be made fun of less, or others venerated…. which tend to be extremely conservative in their design. It would be a shame for fresh timepiece enthusiasts to dampen their appetite for more open-minded products simply because people they have never met choose those watches as easy targets for anonymous jokes on social media.

New watch lovers who participate on social media engage in the practice of posting a picture of a watch they recently purchased on social media and then requesting feedback on it, such as, “Hey guys, what do you think about my new watch?” This request for social validation might be appropriate among a close circle of friends, but when posing such a question on a large, open forum such as Instagram, really nasty comments can be lobbed in ways that I would characterize as irresponsible. This is one of the major reasons I recommend that novice watch lovers avoid platforms such as Instagram until they have more experience and confidence in their timepiece tastes and choices. Only then is a person in a better position to ignore or laugh off negative commentary about their watch from strangers.

The final and probably most endearing area of watch humor on Instagram are remarks on the behavior of being a watch lover and collector. This area of comedy is probably what helps bring watch collectors together the most because someone is publicly sharing the sentiment that many people feel privately. To realize that you aren’t the only one to feel a particular way about collecting or obsessing over timepieces helps not only to validate the experience of being a watch lover but also makes it less of a lonely pursuit. Indeed, one of the primary reasons most watch enthusiasts go online in the first place (aside from wishing to learn about new watches) is because they lack a strong social group in the real world within which to share their passion for watches.

The volume and veracity of watch enthusiast humor and satire on Instagram is a marked demonstration of how emotional this hobby is. It is also a good indicator of what collectors are currently concerned about. Finally, I will discuss a few trends I have seen in the watch industry and consumer humor on Instagram these days. First and foremost is product pricing and availability. These are two separate but albeit related concepts that go to the heart of the experience of buying a watch. A large number of popular watches are called out for being too expensive, and the experience of not being able to find or buy a watch you want is also mentioned quite frequently.

People also like to poke fun at overzealous watch retailers and sales personalities on social media. There are a number of would-be salespeople who disguise themselves as thought leaders or media personalities. The intelligence of the watch enthusiast community typically sees through manipulative practices and likes to poke fun at it. Similar areas of discussion occur as enthusiasts poke fun at poor watch brand marketing and communication that they see as akin to propaganda. In general, watch enthusiasts appear to reject market manipulation and being lied to — which seems to happen on quite a regular basis.

A major area of humor relates to pointing out how otherwise “innovative” brands tend to copy one another both in marketing communication and design. Copycats are called out and sometimes viciously lampooned with jokes, and there’s also general humor about designs that the community feels are unattractive, lazy, unoriginal, or generally uninspired are a common theme on Instagram.

This is a good opportunity to draw parallels between this observational study of social media watch enthusiast sentiment and data I recently collected in an aBlogtoWatch audience survey. First, I am going to make the assumption that the watch enthusiast on aBlogtoWatch is very similar (if not in many instances the same people) as those who frequent Instagram. What strengthens this supposition is that aBlogtoWatch audience members tend to be more mature and experienced watch lovers, and the ones who have the information and understanding necessary to make fun of topics related to watch collecting on Instagram are also experienced enthusiasts.

In the study on aBlogtoWatch, we found that around 80% of watch enthusiasts felt that the marketing, advertising, and communication they received from the watch industry did not have them (as a target audience) in mind and was generally ineffective as good marketing. When people who enjoy watches feel that the companies they are interested in are not speaking to them or are missing the mark when speaking to them, it tends to suggest a high probability of dissatisfaction by the consumer toward the companies that produce the products they want to like. Thus, I can suggest with some confidence that the generalized negative sentiment toward major parts of the watch industry by watch enthusiasts on social media may be an outcome of a generalized marketing and advertising failure by the watch industry toward the watch enthusiast audience. This would be yet another signal that the watch industry (if the negative sentiment concerns them) could improve timepiece collector sentiment by creating communication and marketing messages that actually have them in mind.

In terms of being a watch collector, the community likes to joke that timepiece enthusiasts are both obsessive and spend far too much time viewing watches online, and also how the experience of buying watches can be ruinously expensive (if unchecked). It is very likely that social media peer pressure can incite people to purchase products they cannot easily afford in order to be “part of the club.” This is also unfortunate and deleterious to the experience of a new watch collector because rather than be shamed for what they cannot afford, they should be encouraged to buy the best at the price level they can afford — another reason why Instagram is probably not a wise tool for those just getting into the watch collecting hobby.

Thank you to Jason Sarkoyan for assistance in selecting Instagram posts for this article. For seasoned collectors, the Instagram community can provide companionship, information, and good times. It can be worth sorting through much of the irrelevant stuff to discover the gold. Happy surfing, fellow online watch lovers — and be sure to “like” the best of Instagram watch humor.

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