Shinola: Luxury Watches Made In Detroit – Really?

The finest watches Detroit has to offer

I recently walked past this billboard from Shinola on 5th avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Shinola Tall

My initial reaction was “Detroit? Isn’t that a Chrysler thing?” The answer? Yes it is.

Eminem first told us so during the 2011 Superbowl when Chrysler launched the “Imported From Detroit” 200 sedan. There was also the “Halftime in America” 2012 Superbowl spot with Clint Eastwood – and Chrysler has not let up since. Aspirational products from Detroit have remained a distinctly Chrysler thing.



That initial thought was followed closely by “Why would anyone want a watch made in Detroit?”

There is no connection between Detroit and watches for American consumers. And it could be my untrained eyes, but I find very little about the watch featured in the billboard desirable- so I’m not given much of a reason to even want to begin to make the Luxury watch/Detroit mental connection.

If Detroit watches are supposed to be aspirational, consumers need to see at least one of two things:

  1. They need to see design that makes their hearts skip a beat or
  2. They need to see a person who makes their hearts skip a beat wearing a watch from Detroit.

Simply put, they either need to want the watch or they need to want to be the person wearing the watch. In my opinion, this ad achieves neither.

How To Make It Better

I don’t think making this brand communicate “aspirational” better than they’ve done in this billboard is necessarily the way to go (at least not initially). Shinola doesn’t strike me as a brand that is primarily aspirational. I do, however,  think they need to better communicate who they are.

I looked into Shinola to learn more about them and I discovered that they’re all about America and Americans.

“The question isn’t why you’d build a watch factory in Detroit, it’s why you’d want to see American jobs go anywhere else…American jobs might just be the thing we’re most proud of. Shinola. Where American is Made.”


To me, the answer seems pretty straightforward.

Shinola should step away from Detroit, which Chrysler owns, and step back out into America. I didn’t have to look hard to see that Shinola’s story is an American story that takes place in Detroit. They’re not Detroit as much as they’re America.

It’s right on their “About Us” page and in resplendent American manufacturing glory on this subpage where they tell a more in-depth version of their story and introduce us to their people.

“America” resonates with Americans. I really don’t think that “Detroit”, apart from a Chrysler context, will resonate with Americans in the way that Shinola’s marketing managers would hope it does. Their communication can be made significantly better with a change that highlights the fact that they’re an American brand.

Until Next Time.