Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren has devised a new way to quench a thirst for fashion.
In an ambitious co-branding initiative, Polo Ralph Lauren is teaming up with Sprite to promote its Polo Jeans Co. brand this fall. The centerpiece of the campaign is a national sweepstakes involving hundreds of millions of bottles of Sprite, tens of thousands of vending machines and some 100,000 chances for consumers to win Polo clothing and cash.
For Polo, which has sometimes been called the “Coca-Cola of fashion” by industry analysts, it’s a way to reach customers using a brand new canvas, literally putting its brand name and imagery in the hands of millions of young consumers.
“A kid is going to pick up a bottle and say, ‘What’s on here? It’s really cool,”‘ said Mindy Grossman, president and chief executive officer of Polo Jeans, which is licensed to Jones Apparel Group. “The key is to be in the world that your customer is in and attach yourself to something your customer does and is a part of. It’s an interactive piece.
“The point is to build awareness and drive the business,” Grossman told WWD.
Starting in mid-June, Sprite bottles and vending machines decorated with denim accents and the Polo Jeans rivet-shaped logo will begin appearing. Some limited-edition one-liter bottles will also carry fashion shots from the Polo Jeans fall campaign, recently shot by Herb Ritts in California.
Polo and Coca-Cola declined to identify the budget for the co-branding effort, however, it is believed that both firms have a large equity stake in the campaign. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Polo Jeans Co. spent $7.5 million on direct media last year, while Sprite spent some $68.4 million.
Coca-Cola’s ad agency, Lowe Lintas Partners, is slated to produce the 30-second co-branded television commercials next month. They will break in July. The soft drink’s current slogan is “Obey Your Thirst.”
Grossman noted, however, that the Sprite promotion is above and beyond the usual investment in print and outdoor advertising for Polo Jeans. When it was launched in 1996, the brand was backed by a $20 million advertising blitz.
“It is a very significant commitment,” she said. “It’s definitely the big back-to-school promotion for Sprite and it will be backed with a national television campaign with high frequency.”
A spokeswoman for Sprite called the Polo Jeans sweepstakes “a major focus for the brand this year. It covers all summer and the entire back-to-school period. It fits right into our overall brand positioning which is encouraging teens to express themselves.”
Foreshadowing the soda-pop venture, Polo Jeans Co. began using vending machines as a sales and promotional tool last year, installing them in certain doors of Macy’s, Rich’s and Filene’s. Customers could use them to purchase T-shirts and caps or win free Polo Jeans apparel. The machines caught the attention of one Coca-Cola executive and “it mushroomed into what is now a very exciting promotion,” Grossman said.
Ross Klein, senior vice president of marketing and advertising at Polo Jeans, said research showed that the target customers for Sprite and Polo Jeans are very similar in terms of age, attitude and lifestyle interests.
“Sprite is to Coca-Cola just as Polo Jeans Co. is to Polo Ralph Lauren,” he said. “It’s fun, it’s hip and it’s about individual expression. Both brands have a very similar brand character profile.”
Although details are still being finalized, Klein said Polo Jeans plans to promote the “Win Pocket Change” sweepstakes through radio advertising and activities on more than 200 college campuses this fall. These include try-in incentive programs designed to drive students to local stores that carry Polo Jeans.
Polo Jeans also plans to establish “Sprite” lounges in the 13 freestanding Polo Jeans Co. stores where customers can purchase soda pop from a vending machine and hang out in the store. The campaign runs through the end of September.
Millions of prizes are up for grabs in the sweepstakes. One in 12 of the special co-branded bottles yields a prize for a free bottle of Sprite, Klein said. There are 50 grand prizes of the jeans with $1,000 cash.