How things have changed for David Lauren in the past five years.
In his keynote speech, Polo Ralph Lauren's senior vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications recalled his minimal technology experience in 2000 when he joined the company to spearhead the launch of Polo.com. "In fact, I think I learned how to turn on a computer a year before," he said jokingly.
Since then, Lauren has been a vital component in Polo.com's success. The partnership venture with NBC just marked its fifth anniversary and now receives three million hits monthly.
The 34-year-old used his summit presentation to detail how the site helps drive home the Ralph Lauren lifestyle message.
"What my dad started nearly 40 years ago was not just about a tie, it was not about a shirt, it was not about a dress, it wasn't about a fashion show," Lauren said. "What Ralph Lauren does that's special is tell a story. He tells you a world. He takes you into a world that you have never seen before, that you thought you might have seen. It's cinematic, it's movies, it's a world that is inspiring, it's a world that takes you from Santa Fe, from the West, to Nantucket and old English estates. It gives you something that makes you dream. What he has done has really helped to set the standards for what lifestyle marketing is."
Lauren started his career as a sophomore at Duke University, when he launched Swing magazine for intellectual twentysomethings, which was initially distributed from the back of his car. He eventually published it nationwide in a partnership with Hachette-Filipacchi.
When he joined the company, Lauren's challenge was to develop a way to bring his father's essence to life on flat screens.
"The task was to develop a media company, and we met with NBC, who is our partner," Lauren said. "We looked at a bunch of different ideas on how to get into the Internet world, and how to get into the media world. It became very, very simple, actually. We looked at our ads. We looked back and said, ‘What makes Ralph Lauren unique?'"Lauren added that it wasn't about reinventing the brand or the Internet, but about taking the consumer into the world of Ralph Lauren, a world that extends far beyond Polo shirts and cashmere sweaters.
"They literally want to step into the ad, they want to step into that store," Lauren said. "They want the experience to come back into their homes, and how can we do that in a way that would really feel special, when you are really looking at a flat screen, looking at a computer in your house that could run at different speeds? How are you going to bring that to life?"
Pointing to the Web site's landing page that features a styled model wearing the current collection, Lauren said that people started asking for the tweed jacket, the shirt, and how to tie the tie the way the model is wearing it. The inquiries went deeper than that though, and often shoppers wanted to know how to get the kayak in the picture, the patina on the truck, the house and even the dog.
"These are real questions, and we started to say, ‘Wow, people really want to step into our ads.' So now, what we do is, we show them how to step into our ads," he said.
The site contains Polo.com Magazine, which currently features interviews with Sheryl Crow and tennis legend Nick Bollettieri, and information on Richard Branson's Necker Island and Bentley's new Continental Flying Spur sedan. It also has RL TV, with video streams of Ralph Lauren explaining the season's inspiration ("We are actually helping the consumer step into the mind of the designer, let you understand what he was thinking when he was conceiving the brand, when he was conceiving the look of the season," Lauren said), the Crow interview, a style guide and home improvement tips such as how to get the right color walls with the right paint techniques.
Lauren called this a form of "merchan-tainment — the blending of merchandising and entertainment," he said. "We kept that as sort of our vision statement."
There is also the Ralph Lauren Style Guide, where online shoppers can shop by look or individual piece and find answers to questions about the different ways to style the looks of the season."People want to get that style guide. What makes it special for us is, the Internet is a scary place," Lauren said. "When you are spending $300 on a cashmere sweater, and you are buying a pair of chinos and aren't sure exactly how they should fit you, you need a sales person to walk you through and explain to you how the look comes together. Otherwise, it's a flat screen. You need to bring that to life. People and the ads have to leap from the pages. You have to make sure there is a personality behind your brand. We try to give information on how to put it together. It's our virtual salesperson."
A more recent Web site initiative is Create Your Own, where customers can choose their color Polo shirt and the color of the polo player or monogram they would like on it.
"Our Polo shirt has been a staple around the world, whether you are Prince Charles or Jennifer Lopez," Lauren said. "People come in and say, ‘How do I get the black shirt but a yellow horse instead of a blue one?' We created Create Your Own, which came out of a real need from our consumers."
The initiative has attracted a new, younger and more affluent customer, and even caused a little craze in schools, where students have started buying and trading them.
Polo continues to expand its Web offerings for all its brands. But Lauren said that an online presence for its latest brand, Rugby, is still "at least a year away."
In his closing remarks, Lauren said, "We think we have brought the Ralph Lauren lifestyle to a new medium, into a new age. We are hoping to take this to new pages and new chapters, and you will be seeing a lot of it coming in the next year."
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