How Ralph Lauren keeps a classic brand modern

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Retail’s BIG ShowRalph Lauren is known for inviting customers into a dream world of luxury. That flawless man in the ad wearing the Ralph Lauren shirt has a story and a lifestyle that consumers want to see themselves in. But when David Lauren, Executive Vice President of Advertising, Marketing, and Corporate Communications of Ralph Lauren Corporation, took the stage at Retail’s BIG Show to talk about keeping a classic brand modern, the dream that a lot of us in the audience wanted to step into was the not the life of someone on an English estate outside of London, but the life of someone on the big budget, push-the-limits Ralph Lauren marketing team.

David Lauren describes "merchantainment" at Retail's BIG Show 2012.

For the next hour, we were treated to a show-and-tell of high gloss marketing campaigns that were more than just eye candy. An iconic brand that represents timeless style, Ralph Lauren has also revolutionized retail using technology, creativity and their own passion for innovation.

They’ve been at the front of the pack since digital became an option, seeing an opportunity to tell a story online when many retailers saw the internet as a place that would hurt store sales. And the retailer has been pushing the envelope ever since, investing heavily in video, editorial content, a Minority Report-inspired interactive store window, mobile apps and perhaps most fantastic of all, a 4D spectacle on the streets of London and New York. Most recently, the brand used Fashion Week as an opportunity to buy out all the ad space in the New York Times iPad app—not for a day or a week, but for the entire month of September.

The brand story is a storybook tale told by great storytellers. David described the driving concept as “merchantainment,” the seamless blending of merchandising and entertainment. Ralph Lauren himself envisions a lifestyle around the merchandise. In the store, the character’s sweater might be on the rack, but he also left his kayak in the corner, and you might even run into his dog as you browse.

“We don’t just sell clothes, we sell dreams,” David said. “We sell a lifestyle that’s exciting. When you’re shopping, you’re dreaming. You want access in that world,” he said.

David pointed out a few keys to success—don’t wait for everybody else to do it, just take the risk and and go for it. There’s a balancing act of knowing your customer and reacting to them, but also showing them something they haven’t seen before. And most importantly, in merchantainment, you must excite your customer. But as David points out, you have to get excited, too.

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