Ralph Lauren, the 80s called, they want their ad back

Here’s a recent ad for Ralph Lauren’s fragrance Polo.

It’s a cultural antique. This is what advertising used to look like when designed to flatter male egos and sell goods that were designed to flatter male egos in a cultural moment designed to flatter male egos. These days, its “Really? Get over yourself.”

Ralph Lauren has not been superbly in touch with the cultural moment. (Not since the 1980s when he helped define the cultural movement.) But this is really egregiously out of touch. I guess he doesn’t have a Chief Culture Officer.

What looks and feels more contemporary?  Have a look at this Fitbit ad.

The difference?

It’s not about one person.  It’s about lots and lots of people.

It’s not about young males. It’s about a variety of people.  Because some years ago, advertising and branding learned it had to let in everyone, not just the Young and Beautiful…and Male.  Who gets the credit here?  Sylvia Lagnado and Dove? Who else?

And it’s not about someone with that terrible look of self congratulation, that overweening red speedboat of an ego.

It’s not about speedboats but the diversity of ways people have found to entertain and exert themselves. This is plenitude in action.

Yes, this ad is an exercise in diversity because the Fitbit is designed to capture data generate by any activity. But notice the tone, the reckless, frenetic charm of this spot. It’s not about anyone’s ego. There are no beautiful people here. No celebrities. It’s a “Here Comes Everybody” exercise, to use Shirky’s phrase. There are a variety of deep cultural reasons why diversity is so important when crafting cultural meanings.

We are on the verge of a season that shows a relentless stream of James Bond movies, and with each season, Bond looks a little stranger, a man so besotted with himself that it’s hard to imagine rooting for him.  How do we identify with a monster of vanity? Those days have passed. This is where you are, Mr. Lauren, on the wrong side of history.

8 thoughts on “Ralph Lauren, the 80s called, they want their ad back

  1. Gerry Matos

    The tone deaf nature of the Ralph ad is amazing. Could have run perfectly during a commercial break on Miami Vice.

    While I like the fitbit ad, it’s strikingly similar to current Android “and you” spot. (Tried to ad the link to that spot here, but wasn’t able to.) Same pace, same mnemonic. Not sure if one spot led to the other or if this is just a matter of great minds thinking alike…

  2. Grant Post author

    Gerry, great points. Yes, this is like the Android spot and I thought of putting it in. And yes this would have made a very good commercial break for Miami Vice. Thanks, Grant

  3. Max

    I can quite believe that the Polo ad isn’t ironic.

    Why it would make sense for them to parody 80s machismo? I’m not sure.

    It is possible that Ralph believes there are enough fragrance-wearing men out there who are old enough to remember thinking Hasselhoff’s Michael Knight was the ultimate lady killing badass, but young enough to have laughed at (not just with) Ron Burgundy’s vintage misogyny.

  4. Grant Post author

    Max, interesting thought and beautifully phrased, but I think the moment you laugh at Ron Burgundy you repudiate the Hasselhoff version of masculinity. Or we can hope. Thanks! Grant

  5. Patrick Pearce

    Grant what are you trying to stir up here? Comparing a fragrance ad to a fitness app?

    For Polo, question is a) who are they targeting, and b) does ‘second degree’ interpretation really exist?

    If they are targeting Millennials, one could argue that b) doesn’t really matter, because people who never knew the 80s might very well find the references cool in an over-the-top bring-it-on kind of way. If the narrower target is frat-boys and their ilk, this could be bang on.

    Then again, given the relative low-cost of recycling 80s footage with cheap music, this could very well be one of those “let’s throw it out there and see if it sticks”.

    1. grant27

      Patrick, a brand is a brand. RL extracts meanings from our culture, and they had better choose the right meanings. Because no one wants a brand that is several decades off the mark.Best, Grant

  6. Virginia Postrel

    “The world of Ralph Lauren” isn’t universally alluring. It’s created from the images and ideals that enchanted a poor Bronx boy born in 1939: the country life of the WASP leisure class, cowboys in the American west, exotic African safaris, aviators wearing bomber jackets.

    Lauren often compares his work to filmmaking. “What I do is make movies with my clothes,” he recently told the Telegraph. But he isn’t talking about today’s films. He’s talking about yesterday’s.


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