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Lacoste surely speaks digital, the language of the 21st-century customer.

“[Digital marketing] provides new opportunities to reach out to a new audience in a much faster, targeted and quantifiable way than other forms of media,” said Didier Calon, communication director of Lacoste SA.

This story first appeared in the February 9, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

He noted Lacoste is “on the verge” of reaching 11 million fans on Facebook, while the Web sites attract more than 35 million visitors a year.

“We also count millions of video views through our various social-media networks,” Calon added, noting its “Polo of the Future” video has been seen more than 47 million times since last December.

RELATED STORY: Rockin’ the Croc: Lacoste’s Crocodile is More Than Just a Logo >>

This fun clip was to mark Lacoste’s 80 years and provide a futuristic vision of the brand’s most iconic product, the L.12.12 polo shirt, which — as the video suggests — could one day change color and style with a touch of the hand. Viewers were then invited to design their own version of the polo shirt through an interactive tool.

Lacoste’s print campaigns, meanwhile, reflect its style evolution. It was René Lacoste who posed for pictures when the crocodile first appeared on a piece of clothing in 1926. The brand’s ambassadors since have included tennis champions Arthur Ashe, Mats Wilander and Andy Roddick, further underscoring Lacoste’s sporty image.

Elisabeth Prat, creative head of fashion at Peclers Paris, the trend and consulting agency, credits the brand with coming a long way, evolving from a “BCBG brand” in the Sixties to becoming outdated in the Seventies and Eighties just before being picked up by the streets and hip-hop culture again in the Nineties.

“Finally, in the 2000s, it turned into a fashion brand with the arrival of Christophe Lemaire,” Prat said.

Since the crocodile has traditionally been a man’s pet, a stronger focus on women also became more apparent — already briefly expressed in the 1973 “Les crocodiles sont belles” advertisement (which translates into “Female crocodiles are pretty”). The campaign heralded a shift in marketing strategy, moving away from traditional product advertising to providing a general mood and a catchy tag line.

The current “Unconventional Chic” campaign, which launched in 2011 with model Anja Rubik sporting a white polo shirt over a glittery black evening gown, among others, has proved “a little controversial,” admitted Calon. According to Prat, it is reminiscent “of the old top-model era of the Nineties” and was “not realistic.”

“Yes, this image was strange, but we tested the campaign in France, the U.S. and China, and the results were very good,” said Calon. “You need to take risks. The campaign was launched at a time when the market was difficult and the competition tough, so we decided to show our differences — we are not the only brand that is casual and chic, but we were the first one.”

For its ads, Lacoste has employed photographers as diverse as Terry Richardson, Ellen von Unwerth, David Sims and Phil Poynter.

Marc-Antoine Jarry, the executive strategic director at Ogilvy who helped Louis Vuitton and Coca-Cola Zero find their voice through images, said Lacoste “doesn’t need brand construction any more, it needs to be nourished.”

“It’s one of the most amazing brands in the world, it has a lot of power. But when you go to the Web site, you don’t even see a section that is about the spirit of unconventional chic, so you don’t really know what to do with it. Unless you are familiar with the history of Lacoste, you don’t understand why they claim unconventional chic, which is probably a reinterpretation of the rupture of men playing in shirts,” he said.

Jarry cited the “Un peu d’air sur terre” campaign (“A bit of air on Earth”) as a milestone in Lacoste’s advertising strategy. Thought up by BETC Luxe, it ran from 2006 to 2011 and featured models walking through the air. “It was an amazing combination of energy and timelessness. It made everyone rediscover Lacoste with a refreshed perspective and was very inspiring from the historical point of view of advertising.”

According to Kantar Media, Lacoste SA has increased its ad spending in the U.S. alone from $5.5 million in 2009, to $6.9 million in 2010 and $8.5 million in 2011. Calon would not reveal its global ad expenses, but said the budget jumped by 10 percent between 2011 and 2012.

“It shows their ambitions,” concluded Jarry. “Becoming a global fashion house needs support and increased investment.”

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