How Vortic, a Colorado watch maker, ended up on “Jack Ryan” TV show

In the season four premiere of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” CIA deputy director Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) attends a senate committee hearing to discuss the assassination of a foreign president. The senators ask him to raise his right and pledge to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

On his left hand, Ryan is wearing a large and shiny watch, distinct for showing 24 hours in its face instead of the usual 12.

The watch, made by Fort Collins-based Vortic Watch Company, created a buzz among gearheads who scoured the internet in search of details about the accessory. According to R.T. Custer, co-founder and CEO, the company’s website traffic jumped 50% compared to a typical month thanks to the cameo. It got another bump after a placement on “The Price Is Right,” where a Vortic watch was one of the prizes on the wheel.

Vortic, which restores old pocket watches and refurbishes them into wristwatches, only makes 50 of the military edition design per year. They sell for $8,000 each. By the time Gear Patrol ran a story entitled “What Watch Does John Krasinski Wear in the Final Season of ‘Jack Ryan?’” there were only five left, Custer said. The remaining stock sold out within 24 hours of the story’s publication in August.

“We made tens of thousands of dollars off that,” Custer said.

Vortic Watch Company worked with Mark McFann, a Fort Collins resident and owner of Cast a Long Shadow marketing agency, to get its product on the wrist of one of TV’s most notable CIA operatives and on a primetime game show. They’re not the first. In 2022, McFann helped place a bottle of NOCO Distillery’s whiskey in an episode of “Star Trek: Picard,” causing hardcore Trekkies to bombard the spirits maker in hopes of buying a bottle of their own.

Among the myriad of marketing strategies, McFann said product placement can be among the most effective.

“Filmmakers really want TV and films to look real, so they prefer to use real products,” he said. Instead of buying or renting, producers oftentimes work with agencies to trade client exposure for free props.

McFann has earned local brands visibility in blockbuster productions, like Marvel’s “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.” During one scene, an advertisement for Boulder tea company Celestial Seasonings appears posted to the side of a phone booth as a monster tears through downtown.

The brands McFann reps and productions where he places them need to be a good fit. For example, he wouldn’t place an expensive Vortic watch on the wrist of a character who couldn’t afford it.

It’s a long-term play, though, governed by film and television production timelines and sometimes the whims of Hollywood’s elite. One of McFann’s notable placements was for Royal Purple motor oil in the movie “Salt.” It wasn’t a guarantee, however, as actor Angelina Jolie had the final say on which products got screen time, he said.

“She had only approved two, which were Royal Purple and Ducatti,” McFann said. “You don’t always have control.”

Companies that are willing to weather the uncertainty of product placement sometimes reap long-term rewards. The Screen Actors Guild strike, however, has thrown a wrench in business. McFann has put all his clients on hold until the strike is over.

NOCO Distillery co-founder and master distiller Sebastien Gavillet originally planned to release the whiskey seen in “Star Trek: Picard” – a bottle of its Bourbon II from cask No. 427, which aligned with the show’s timeline years in the future – in late 2022 via a lottery. However, a mistake in the commemorative box design delayed the release, allowing fans extra time to sign up for the lottery.

There are now more than 8,000 hopefuls on NOCO Distillery’s lottery list hoping to purchase one of 500 bottles, Gavillet said. The lottery is slated to take place in late September.

“Between eight and 30 people sign up a week because people there are just getting to see the placement in the show,” he said.

Many more buy NOCO Distillery’s Bourbon II from earlier casks just to get a taste. Sales of that specific spirit have doubled since the episode aired, Gavillet said, leading the company to expand its production capacity and hire additional staff.

Custer at Vortic Watch Company said one of the most influential placements he’s notched is on the arm of Kevin O’Leary, also known as Mr. Wonderful on “Shark Tank.” In 2020, O’Leary published a YouTube video about some of his favorite timekeepers, which has since been viewed nearly 2 million times. Vortic receives traffic to its website from that video to this day.

“Product placement works clearly, but you have to be patient because it takes so long,” Custer said. “But now I have a direct connection to John Krasinski, which is pretty cool. And I can reach out directly to Mr. Wonderful.”

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