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David Lauren

David Lauren contemplated kicking off his keynote speech at WWD’s Media + Style summit by joking that Polo Ralph Lauren would stop advertising. But instead of sending shudders through the audience, Polo Ralph Lauren’s senior vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications struck a positive note, underscoring the importance of advertising in everything from print media to new media, particularly in these challenging times.

This story first appeared in the December 9, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“This is an opportunity for us to continue to advertise,” Lauren said. “Print is more important than ever, because as people pull out, as people get scared, you have to look strong. People get behind a leader. They get behind something that they feel is powerful and says something. And if you don’t say anything, then you are obsolete. Our goal is to constantly have a strong message that reinvents itself and feels fresh, and just when people are feeling hopeless, we show them hope and get them excited.”

In his presentation, Lauren outlined how in the multimedia age, the sensibility, attitude and story of Ralph Lauren can effectively be conveyed in more ways than one, from ad pages in magazines to elements on the company’s Web site, ralphlauren.com; sports marketing, and technological innovations that have enhanced Polo’s position as one of the fashion industry’s leading brands.

“This is a company about ideas, this is a company about style, and there is no better way for us to show it than through media, through magazines and through the Internet,” Lauren said. “[Ralph Lauren] tries to tell a story. He sometimes says that he is a writer, that he is crafting a movie. And everyone in it, whether you are a model in an ad or a sales person in the store, is living out that lifestyle.”

It’s a lifestyle he is all too familiar with. Ralph Lauren, his father, started the company 41 years ago, and has since pioneered, redefined and refined the concept of lifestyle advertising like few others in fashion. David Lauren joined Polo in 2000 to spearhead the launch of the company’s Internet business.

At Polo, the Duke University alum — who started Swing Magazine at college and eventually got it published nationwide in a partnership with Hachette Filipacchi — set out to bring the brand’s essence to life on flat screens, and he continues to seek new ways to do that as technology advances.

“How do you stand out? How do you do something that’s unique?” Lauren said. “That’s the challenge that we are faced with every day and that’s what we try to do every day.

“We continue to believe that magazines are an amazing way to express what this brand is about, but we are also exploring a lot of new ways,” he added.

Case in point: ralphlauren.com. When starting the company’s online business nine years ago, Lauren pursued a theory of “merchan-tainment” — a blending of merchandising and entertainment, backing the merchandise pages with a constant flow of editorial features, celebrity interviews, video clips and a Ralph Lauren Style Guide, where online shoppers can read about the different ways to style the looks of the season.

“We started with videos, articles, movies, information about the product done in very cinematic ways that no one was touching,” he said. “People said, ‘No one is going to watch videos.’ We started this with NBC, and to start a media company was literally unheard of. Our goal was not to stop at a Web site. It was to develop a magazine, television and all kinds of new media.”

Today, ralphlauren.com reaches 20 countries in 10 languages, with three million visitors to the site monthly.

Rugby.com, which launched in the summer, also features a style guide put together by actual consumers blogging about their ways of pulling looks together. It instantly created an online community invaluable in marketing.

The company has also been stepping up its presence at high-profile sports tournaments, with apparel sponsorships at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and, most recently, it officially dressed the U.S. team for the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics.

“The idea of sports marketing was to take the Polo brand into a new world,” Lauren explained. “People had seen the Polo shirt for years, but they started to say, ‘That’s nice, I already have 20 of them in a drawer.’ How do you bring new life to it? Putting it on television was the next opportunity.”

From a marketing standpoint, the results have been invaluable. “When I was at Wimbledon, Paul McCartney walked by, and I said, ‘Do you know we outfitted Wimbledon,’” Lauren recalled. “He said, ‘I thought so, it was so English. It was so Ralph Lauren, it was perfect.’ That’s what we want to hear.”

The process also triggered the development of the oversize Polo icon, which remains a hit at retail.

“My dad questioned it, and he said it could be the big mistake, not the big pony,” Lauren said. “We really challenged him. We needed a bigger pony to look good on television. What we call a happy accident has turned out to be an amazing success for us. This reintroduced and reinvigorated the Polo shirt, and no one’s looked back. Reinventing it came through the use of media, or marketing, of television, and the Internet.”

Other initiatives include a touch-screen window. Lauren was inspired to initiate the program after watching “Minority Report,” which featured Tom Cruise investigating a murder and moving around images on a screen with his fingertips. Lauren said they called Steven Spielberg, who directed the film, and asked him where the technology came from. His response was: “It’s the movies; it doesn’t exist.” But Polo went on to create a similar touch screen for select store windows that allows shoppers to make purchases at any time of the day.

More recently, Polo added mobile technology, using QR technology, to allow shoppers to buy from their cell phones. Consumers can hover cell phones equipped with the technology over a bar code on an ad in a magazine, take a picture of it, and download videos, articles and information about the products, as well as shop them.

These technological features garnered the company plenty of interest. “Fashion is trendy, technology is even trendier,” Lauren said. “This is more important than having Beyoncé in your ad. This is much more important than having any major actor you can think of. This got us more publicity than you can get with Brad Pitt. That’s the idea. You want to constantly reinvent the brand and whatever you can do to try that is important.

“What’s important to us is being a leader, taking some gambles, trying some new things, making sure that we stay trendy and fashion-forward; that we’re a classic, but that they think of us as modern; that we can constantly reinvent ourself, and always move forward,” he added.