Polo embraces new mobile technology.

Polo Ralph Lauren has long been out in front of its luxury and fashion peers when it comes to technology. The brand was among the first to embrace e-commerce, and, in more recent history, it has been aggressive in its use of mobile marketing.
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Last year alone, the company went live with a mobile commerce platform, began using QR Codes and launched its first iPhone app (this month it launched its second app around its Rugby brand). The “Make Your Own Rugby” iPhone app allows users to personalize rugby and polo shirts, as well as upload their photos to virtually try on the shirt.

Leading the charge is David Lauren, senior VP-advertising, marketing and corporate communications. He also happens to be the son of chairman-CEO Ralph Lauren. The 37-year-old took on the marketing role at Polo Ralph Lauren in 2001 and has held his current title for just over a year.
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Mr. Lauren admits it’s a challenge to stay on the cutting edge while maintaining the brand’s timeless, lux image. Likewise, many competitors have been tentative when it comes to taking advantage of technology and social media.

But embracing technology gives Polo Ralph Lauren a competitive advantage, Mr. Lauren said. Quick response (QR) codes, which are bar codes that can be scanned with cellphones to get content associated with the product, for example, might not yet be widely used in the U.S., but in Japan they’re just another way to shop. When the U.S. catches up, Polo Ralph Lauren, which spent $171 million on advertising in fiscal year 2009 — down 9% from fiscal year 2008, according to the company — will be ready, Mr. Lauren said.

“We want to be exploring [technology] right now, so that our learning puts us ahead of the curve,” he said. “Each learning is a brick in the wall, and we want to be at the top of the wall when the floods come.”

Why are so many fashion and luxury brands lagging behind when it comes to digital innovation?

Mr. Lauren says for some brands, technology is not a natural extension of what they do. They’re trying to create a brand based around the technology that’s in front of them, and that’s doing it backwards. For many brands, their resources and talent are really not optimized to take on these new challenges, but they’re learning quickly, and that’s the beauty of technology.

Technologies that help us tell our story are interesting to us. We created something called 24-hour [window] shopping, which was interactive windows, which we launched with our efforts to promote the U.S. Open in 2006. The idea was that we were sponsoring the U.S. Open, and we wanted to make sure to explain the authenticity of our relationship with tennis. We wanted to allow shoppers to shop the product in our window, but also to get tennis tips, learn about the U.S. Open and our relationship, read articles about the events and to even learn how to hit a backhand. It’s fun and entertaining for a customer that wants a new way to communicate with us.

Ralph Lauren has been aggressive in mobile marketing and the success they have had over the last year has encouraged us to invest more. It takes our brand to a new place and opens up a new field of business. When we launched our app [related to the fall 2008 collection] a year ago, there were two luxury brands, and now there are probably hundreds. Macy’s is going to be selling on mobile phones.

It’s great to see all these brands innovating on the phone. It takes shopping and really makes it a part of your life. A single ad in a magazine with a dress or two is powerful, but being able to show 52 looks to someone standing on a corner in Texas [using their phone] is another way to touch them. We’re actually selling rugby shirts and sweaters and jackets and all kinds of products [using mobile technology]. We’re feeling very good about our efforts there. We know that we’re early, but that’s OK because we’re building a sensibility that is unique, and we’re exciting our customers.

Lauren felt it was necessary to embrace QR Codes.

QR technology is something we discovered when we were opening our store in Japan about four or five years ago. It was very cool. We thought that it seemed so natural in Japan, where more people shop on their cell phones than on their computers. When we launched it, we got a lot of credit for being innovators, and many people have followed suit. There are early adopters and there are other people that will wait for the cell-phone explosion to come.

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Japan Fashion and Diesel Jeans “Aliens”

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Diesel “aliens” have set up 120 stores in 80 countries. They believe that their showpiece is their Japan flagship store, a three storey, and 640 square meter house of fun in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku.

Diesel already has several stores in Japan but a walk through the Harajuku premises is like visiting another world. The store manager, a young man sporting a pink topknot and little else in the hair department, greets you before bounding off to check a display, his cell phone permanently stuck to his ear.

Soon you are wandering around in an environment in which fashion, architecture and design blend together. Customers are served free drinks at the third floor cafe; PCs and CD players are set up for your enjoyment, whether you buy anything or not.

Rosso comes to Japan two or three times a year, seldom staying longer than 48 hours. When he is not working, he is out snowboarding, playing soccer or drinking with his staff and family. During a recent whirlwind trip to Tokyo, Rosso sat down with Japan Today editor Chris Betros to discuss the Diesel universe.

What do you think of Japanese fashions?

I think they’re great. I like how Japanese pick up fashion trends and then take them to the extreme. You don’t see that anywhere else in the world.

Where do your clothing engineers get their ideas?

We’re a global product, so we draw on every culture. Each one of our designers is provided with funding for at least two research expeditions to go anywhere in the world. When they come back, we all get together and take some things from Japan, France, America or wherever.
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I like to think of Diesel as a giant tree whose roots are Italian with different branches representing various countries. We started off selling jeans. Now we are selling a way of life.

And what’s that?

You should turn your back on the style dictators and forecasters and let your own tastes lead you. Sampling, mixing and style surfing are the best ways to go.

Do young Japanese like the same outfits as their counterparts overseas?

Kids are the same all over the world. Up until about ten or even five years ago, that wasn’t always the case. But today, Japanese kids like the same fashions, supermodels, film stars and sports superstars as anywhere else.

An important point is that Diesel’s target is as Rosso calls them, kids…18 to 24.

If we are to have a future in Japan we must target youth…if we are perceived to be the brand for older Japanese trying to remain hip we will be rejected. In a yearly research survey conducted by Infoplan called Japan Insights it is apparent in their findings that middle-aged men and women aspire downward to younger fashion trendsetters.

Luxury brands, QR codes and cell phone commerce

If you have any interest in e-tailing, e-marketing, marketing technology or fashion, check this out. An article in last Friday’s edition of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD)—the must-read daily newspaper of the fashion industry—announced that Polo Ralph Lauren is about to embark on selling its products through cell phones (presumably in the U.S.).

“Taking its philosophy of “merchan-tainment” to a new level, Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. is breaking into mobile commerce — m-commerce — incorporating technology that allows shoppers to buy Polo merchandise from their cell phones.
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To realize this, the company is incorporating Quick Response Technology codes in its ads, mailers and store windows, which potential shoppers can scan and download on their camera phones. Once scanned, the site m.ralphlauren.com allows a mobile phone user to enter the world of Ralph Lauren — not just by offering the limited edition 2008 U.S. Open collection, classic polo and oxford shirts, chinos, and even the Ricky bag, but also with exclusive video content and a style guide.”

A bit further on, the article goes on to say that “Polo is the first luxury retailer to tap into the QR technology, which is already popular in Asia and Europe.”

As the piece is written, readers could be forgiven for assuming that Ralph Lauren is somehow out in front of other luxury brands when it comes to cell phone e-tailing and technology adoption. But truth be told, here in Japan, a number of luxury brands have been operating cell phone commerce sites for some time. Open any of Japan’s top fashion magazines this month and you’ll see that Gucci is using QR codes prominently in its advertising right now—and is using a customized code design, the latest trend amongst design sensitive brands.

If you’re new to QR codes, they (and other emerging technologies), can be used by marketers in a number of ground-breaking ways. To see how they’re being leveraged as powerful marketing tools in Japan, read this Japan Marketing News article from early 2007.

Vertical Fashion Show

This example is a bit old but is a great example of the strength of a great event idea.

Sometimes the PR value from an event is much more powerful and more valuable than any paid advertisement.

Look at this GMR event for Marshall Fields…I think you may agree.

The Japanese Denim Market from a Diesel POV

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This came from an interview with the chairman of Diesel and how he sees the brand as global…not Italian.

When anyone calls the head office of Italian fashion giant Diesel in Molvena, northern Italy, staff always answer the phone with “Welcome to the Diesel planet.” That’s because chairman Renzo Rosso jokingly describes himself and his empire as being from another universe. The 45 year old Rosso is a walking advertisement for his company. Everything he wears — from head to toe and including his underwear — is Diesel.
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Established in 1978, Diesel is an innovative design company whose main product lines are denim and underwear for men and women, clothing for kids aged between two and six, a line of sportswear, luggage and fragrances. The company has grown so rapidly that the Italian home market now represents only 15% of the company’s annual sales. A bundle of energy, Rosso took over the reins in 1985 from Adriano Goldschmied with whom he co-founded Diesel in 1978.

He views the world as a single, borderless macroculture. From day one, he and his staff have dared to be different, whether it is making jeans layered with a metallic mesh to give them a permanent rumpled appearance, waistcoats designed to resemble life jackets, T-shirts with shark warnings or jackets featuring US tank manuals.

At one fashion show in Europe, Rosso turned the tables on the audience and made them walk the catwalk with models inspecting them as they passed by. Diesel “aliens” have set up 120 stores in 80 countries. The showpiece is their Japan flagship store, a three story, 640 square metre house of fun in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku.

Diesel already has several stores in Japan but a walk through the Harajuku premises is like visiting another world. The store manager, a young man sporting a pink topknot and little else in the hair department, greets you before bounding off to check a display, his cell phone permanently stuck to his ear. Soon you are wandering around in an environment in which fashion, architecture and design blend together. Customers are served free drinks at the third floor cafe; PCs and CD players are set up for your enjoyment, whether you buy anything or not.

Rosso comes to Japan two or three times a year, seldom staying longer than 48 hours. When he is not working, he is out snowboarding, playing soccer or drinking with his staff and family. During a recent whirlwind trip to Tokyo, Rosso sat down with Japan Today editor Chris Betros to discuss the Diesel universe.

What do you think of Japanese fashions? I think they’re great. I like how Japanese pick up fashion trends and then take them to the extreme. You don’t see that anywhere else in the world. Where do your clothing engineers get their ideas? We’re a global product, so we draw on every culture. Each one of our designers is provided with funding for at least two research expeditions to go anywhere in the world. When they come back, we all get together and take some things from Japan, France, America or wherever.

I like to think of Diesel as a giant tree whose roots are Italian with different branches representing various countries. We started off selling jeans. Now we are selling a way of life. And what’s that? You should turn your back on the style dictators and forecasters and let your own tastes lead you. Sampling, mixing and style surfing are the best ways to go.

Do young Japanese like the same outfits as their counterparts overseas? Kids are the same all over the world. Up until about ten or even five years ago, that wasn’t always the case. But today, Japanese kids like the same fashions, supermodels, film stars and sports superstars as anywhere else. Diesel’s target is as he calls them, kids…18 to 24

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Gentemann on MasterCard’s Sponsorship of Japan Fashion Week’s “3GTV Japan”

Tokyo, Japan 26th March 2008 MasterCard’s sponsorship of Japan Fashion Week’s “3GTV Japan” has been the first to use the latest branded interactive mobile video service – Mobiactions.

In a tie-up between Activate, KK, a Japan based advertising agency and McCann Erickson International, Sairis Group delivered an integrated Mobiactions campaign for Japan Fashion Week providing unique and compelling media access to live and archived video contents as well as a real-time videoblog for visitors.

About the MasterCard Mobiactions IVVR promotion:
Tim Smith (CTO of Urban Marketing) says, “MobiActions seamlessly integrates the mobile web experience with the 3G video experience providing advertising agencies a full featured, 360degree platform to present and manage integrated and interactive mobile media campaigns.

Based on patented call-to-action-control, exclusive to Urban Marketing, the Mobiactions system guarantees that the viewers WILL experience not only the fun of a cool mobile interactive campaign, but also the BRAND messages which support it.

” Mobiactions IVVR is also now available in Australia according to Sam Wilson – Urban Marketing’s Chief Operating Officer. “Now with the availability of interactive video and voice promotions & applications for Japanese and Australian brands, consumers can quickly interact with branded video and audio content via a 3G mobile phone. No longer do you have to wait for a WAP page to download, as the system uses video calling, which is available on 99% of 3G handsets.”

“The ability to influence word of mouth communication is at the forefront of any communications strategy,” says Jerry Gentemann, Director of Activate Japan. “Once a big idea is identified, we look to leverage the digital media world and extend the creative concept online whether through digital media relations, 3G and mobile development, website development, or social networking. Activate and its technical partner Sairis have a crystal clear vision of what needs to be done to manage this evolution in the best interest of clients like MasterCard.”

“We see this as initially very attractive to advertisers in the youth market, and as the acceptance of these interactive campaigns develops then industries such as music, automotive, real estate and health will demand this as an essential part of their mobile marketing mix,” says Wilson.

Mobiactions enables brands to create an interactive mobile branding experience using branded video and audio media. Advertisers can run interactive mobile video and audio promotions for surveys, new product videos, movie trailers, music video voting and competitions as well as any business applications requiring video blogging from a mobile device. http://www.mobiactions.com

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