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NRF Big Show: Ralph Lauren EVP on marketing luxury goods online

Retailer Ralph Lauren “blends merchandising and entertainment” to tell the story that surrounds its products, a tactic essential to keeping an iconic brand relevant in the technologically developing retail world, said David Lauren, Ralph Lauren’s EVP of advertising, marketing and corporate communications, at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 101st Big Show on Jan. 17.

Lauren said Ralph Lauren uses such “merchant-ainment” and related advertising to increase both Internet and in-store sales and broadcast the brand’s image.

“Most people are used to seeing Ralph Lauren as a classic brand,” he said. “We wanted to change that perception and get people comfortable with the idea that luxury items are also available online.”

The goal, Lauren said, is “creating advertising that is appropriate for the Internet” and using “technology as an excuse to push the boundaries further.”

When Ralph Lauren first launched its e-commerce website 11 years ago, retailers were still questioning whether the Internet would be a viable sales channel, said Lori Mitchell-Keller, SVP of the retail industry unit at SAP. However, the Internet proved to be “not just a cheap place to get coupons, but a place to build a luxury brand,” Lauren said, noting that Ralph Lauren received more than 4 million impressions globally online from more than 350 placements last year.

Some of the “merchant-ainment” tactics employed by Ralph Lauren include high-resolution 3-D webpage takeovers; its use of QR codes at a time when the technology was only being employed in Japan; its interactive app, RLX; an online charity auction that raised $51 million for breast cancer; a children’s interactive video storybook voiced by Harry Connick Jr. featuring children garbed in Ralph Lauren gear; and giving customers the ability to design, buy and share rugby shirts and then beam them to a screen in a store window through which other people would also have the chance to buy them.

The brand continues to evolve, Lauren said. In November 2010, Ralph Lauren staged a “4-D” light installation at its flagship stores in New York and London. The installation included three-story tall three-dimensional rotating perfume bottles that hovered in front of the stores and misted the crowd with actual fragrance to create a multi-sensory experience. When Ralph Lauren introduced its youth-centric Denim and Supply line last year, it was the first of its lines to launch completely online, with all of its advertising also exclusively on the Web.

Part of what is responsible for Ralph Lauren’s staying power is its ability to “unite the retail experience with the Web experience” so that they complement each other and are not competitive, Lauren said. The brand also maintains a robust customer service training program, because the technology is “all smoke and mirrors if the end experience isn’t amazing,” he said.

“We try to make the Internet feel more personal,” he said. “We never want a flat screen to scare you away from feeling connected to a brand that’s personal to you.” The Ralph Lauren brand, he said, is “about conjuring up dreams” about the American West, a cozy cabin in Vermont, an English estate or a safari, said Lauren, who noted that the brand, which launched as just a tie-maker in 1967, was one of the first to pioneer “lifestyle marketing.”

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