Uncovering The Face Of Shinola

I admit, after reading the review on Minimally Minimal, I was tempted to get myself a Shinola watch. So good was his photography and the marketing philosophy behind this Detroit brand that I have no qualms shelling out a neat $500 on a company I have never heard of.

Recently, the emphasis on American made products are on the rise. It first came to my attention with Field Notes, then Pad & Quill pique my interest with its range of leather products. Now, Shinola is the latest kid on the block. We always like romance and Detroit, with its strong American roots, is a good place to rekindle that old flame. Why not start a factory there and show the world the magnificent products Shinola are able to craft?

Coincidence or not, the recently revamped and beautifully decorated department store in my town has a small section dedicated to Shinola. It’s comprehensively stocked, with notebooks, bicycle, shoe shine and of course, watches. Shinola certainly sees itself as a brand that doesn’t compete on pricing. It differentiates by being a proud American company with a dedication and passion put into making each craft. Having said that, I can’t help but think that some of their products are overpriced. 

The great brands appeal to us emotionally. Coupled this with a functional (being aesthetically pleasing is a bonus) product that solves problems, we have something that enhances our lives and touches our soul. We support developers that focus on making the best software, sacrificing sleep (sometimes their full-time job) and devoting their time in making things they believe in. We shun big coffee chains and love independent joints because the owners are just like us, living the dream of doing something they love and sharing them with the world. In many ways, we are buying into an association, emotion, dream, freedom and lifestyle.

Things can backfire if brands don’t live up to their promise. I was disappointed when I read FOUR-PINS’ article on Shinola. In truth, Shinola wasn’t being dishonest. It’s just underwhelming to discover that having built the brand promise around the city of Detroit, I had expected more.

Shinola not being a true made-in-Detroit company, the watches not being manufactured there, and the bikes are barely being assembled there. They didn’t really bother me that much. The thing that really irks me is the way they are using Detroit to front their marketing efforts.

Om Malik summed up my sentiment:

Shinola became the white knight for the city of Detroit, which has badly in need for a hero. Shinola’s marketing message: we are bringing back manufacturing to Detroit. The myth of the brand and that do-good-factor has helped it get an entry into high-end stores like Barneys.

It’s really not easy to build a sustainable and honest brand. Crafting the primary marketing message and having its value proposition revolve around that, audience naturally expect some kind of truth to the statement. However, the truth as Jon Moy uncovered, is one that’s likely to make people who wants to get Shinola sit up and take note.