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The time is now 10:10.

You’ve seen ads for watches, right?  Online, in magazines, in newspapers (remember newspapers?)  Generally you get a good view of the watch, with its face showing, maybe its band, and… and maybe something else.  They’re selling watches, so what else is there to notice? One thing to notice is, of course, the time. The watch likely won’t be correct, since it’s just a photograph, but have you ever noticed what time it is in the ads?

It’s always 10:10, or close to it.  Almost always, anyway. Go ahead and do a search for watch ads online.  Rummage through the old copies of The Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine stored in your grandparents’ basement.  It’s almost eerie, but it’s true: watches in ads almost always read 10:10.  This is an advertising convention dating way back, at least to 1926, when the Hamilton Watch Company started favoring this time.  Rolex picked up on it later on, and now it’s pretty much the standard time setting in all watch advertising.

Ads for watches dating from 1926, 1950, and 1974, from left to right.  Not exactly 10:10, but close!

There are theories as to why this happens.  Some of those theories are crazy, usually linking it to historical events.  One holds that John F. Kennedy was assassinated at 10:10, another that the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at 10:10.  There is no truth to these theories. These events did not take place at 10:10, and they did take place well after advertisers started doing it in 1926.  Advertisers liked it because it looks… happy. Yes, happy. Notice when the two hands are up, it suggests that the watch face is smiling. Plus the hands pointing up and to the side also suggest aspiration and achievement.  Seeing 10:10 on a watch face just makes you feel good, goes the thinking. It’s the happiest time of the day.

Soviet propaganda posters from 1941 (left) and circa 1960 (right).  Note the raised arms, the guns, the shooting stars… All pointing up and at an angle, suggesting a call to aspire to greater things.

Another reason is a more practical one.  The watchmaker’s logo usually appears on the lower part of the face, just above the 6, so if the hands are at the 10 and the 2, they’re well clear of the logo, which is thus visible in the advertisement.  The favored time in watch ads for the first half of the 20th century was at or around 8:20, which was a way to make sure the hands were clear of the logo, but the standard time of 10:10 eventually came to dominate.  8:20 looks like the watch is frowning, after all! Who wants that?

You can find plenty of advertisements that break this rule.  Usually the rule is broken in order to show off a feature on the face of the watch that would be obscured if one or both hands were in the 10:10 position.

On the other hand, old habits do die hard.  When digital watches were introduced, many of them continued to follow the old 10:10 rule, out of habit.  Advertisers followed the old rule out of habit, even though the very concept of a digital watch rendered that habit obsolete!

Seiko digital watch ad from 1976, iHome digital clock radio on sale in 2017.  Not quite 10:10, but close enough!

Timex is the company that probably follows the 10:10 rule most closely.  It’s company policy that all Timex watches, analog or digital or both, be photographed and shipped at precisely 10:09:36.  

Timex ad from 1989, Apple Watch ad from 2015.  It’s about that time.

Apple famously sets the time in all its advertising photography at 9:42 for new iPhones, and at 9:41 for new iPads.  This has been said to correspond to Steve Jobs’ announcement of the Apple iPhone, which came during a presentation that Jobs started at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, January 9, 2007.  At 9:35, Jobs uttered the line, “This is a day I have been looking forward to for two and a half years,” setting up the big product reveal for the new iPhone. The schedule for the presentation was to have him announce the new product forty minutes in, but it’s hard to be precise: he was running two minutes late.  When the iPad was announced in 2010, he was running one minute late. There is no record of the exact time when the MacIntosh computer was announced in 1984, but presentations being what they are, it might well have been at 9:42, as well. When you have a formula that works, why change it?

Apple’s famous, mysterious phone time.

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