March 3, 2021

Advertising: Lacoste Recasts Itself in Its Own Prestige

But in a twist, the brand also recently began outfitting noncelebrities, including the wait staff, bus boys and valets at the Hamptons location of Nobu — the upscale Japanese restaurant chain co-owned by Robert De Niro — in clothing featuring the Lacoste logo, an open-jawed crocodile.

“As a consumer, you’re sitting there and Lacoste is all around you,” said Charlie Walk, a partner at RJW Collective, a marketing agency based in Manhattan that works with Lacoste. “But it’s not in your face screaming to you that there’s a branded moment here in the middle of your meal — it’s an elegantly disruptive activation.”

Employees at the Soho House and two Hotel Gansevoort locations — all in Manhattan — also are wearing clothing provided free by Lacoste. Outfitting concierges and waiters is representative of a broader effort to reinvigorate Lacoste, which some may associate with a bygone preppy era.

“It’s an iconic brand with a ton of history, but in the last few years I think it lost touch with the next generation,” said Mr. Walk. “It felt kind of stagnant — you respected the croc but you weren’t really sure who it was touching, how it was connecting with you.”

Over the last year, the agency has pursued a strategy of “aligning the brand with key cultural zeitgeists and influencers,” according to a promotional document summarizing its efforts.

Focusing on fashionable markets like New York, Miami and Los Angeles, promotions have included Lacoste-branded food trucks that prowled the streets of Miami and handing out 3,000 red rubber crocodiles in Manhattan.

Online, the brand partnered with Jared Eng, the fashion and celebrity blogger who publishes and, to produce online videos where Mr. Eng interviews celebrities. The first, released in July, features Leighton Meester, the “Gossip Girl” star, and garnered a combined 300,000 views on Mr. Eng’s sites and on YouTube.


René Lacoste, who competed on the French Davis Cup team, was competing in Boston in 1923 when the team’s captain promised him an alligator suitcase he coveted if he won a tennis match. The incident, as well as his tenacity on the court, earned him the nickname the Crocodile, and Mr. Lacoste soon appeared at matches in a white blazer with a crocodile sewn on the chest pocket.

Finding long-sleeved white shirts that were traditional tennis wear uncomfortable, Mr. Lacoste caused a stir when, around 1927, he begin wearing short-sleeved shirts that had been custom-made for him. While inspired partly by oxford cotton shirts worn by polo players, his were instead made from a more breathable cotton knit.

The brand claims that when it was first sold to the public in 1933, the crocodile sewn on the chest of the shirt was the first time a logo appeared on the outside of an article of clothing.

After its popularity surged with the preppy trend of the 1980s, the brand went mainstream, making cheaper versions available in bargain retailers like Wal-Mart, then floundered, even withdrawing from the American market for a few years in the early 1990s.

Over the last decade, the brand has endeavored to re-establish itself as a prestige brand, with largely positive results, although sales were flat beginning with the economic downturn in 2008. But so far in 2011, sales are up 25 percent over last year, according to Steve Birkhold, the United States chief executive of the company.

Counterintuitive as it may sound to the foreclosed-upon and unemployed, Mr. Birkhold attributes that uptick to actually charging more: in 2009, about 30 percent of merchandise was sold at full price and 70 percent at a discount, while in 2010, 60 percent was sold at full price and only 40 percent at a discount.

The company is re-establishing Lacoste as “a distinctive premium brand,” Mr. Birkhold said.

No longer available in bargain retailers, Lacoste is maintaining its presence in mainstream department stores like Macy’s and Dillard’s while looking to grow more aggressively in premium retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and, particularly, in its own retail stores. About 70 percent of the company’s sales in America come from its own physical and online stores, said Mr. Birkhold.

The company spent $7.5 million on advertising in 2010, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.


To promote the Fifth Avenue flagship store, which reopened recently after closing in February for renovations, Lacoste is timing several promotional events to coincide with Fashion Week in September.

Beginning around noon on Sept. 8, about 80 people in red polo shirts will begin walking toward the store from all directions and handing out postcards with a coupon for $50 polo shirts (they retail for $90 for men, $80 for women). When they converge, a polo shirt 17 feet high by 12 feet wide — with an eight-inch crocodile logo— will be displayed on the façade.

Lacoste “started off as very chic and la-di-da and the Frenchness played very well,” said Allen P. Adamson, author of “BrandSimple” and “BrandDigital,” about the company in its heyday. “But then it got to be everywhere and all of the sudden it was embarrassing and almost a cliché to be wearing it.”

The challenge for Lacoste was that “once a brand is too mass and loses its panache, it’s really hard to get the genie back in the bottle,” he said.

Against those odds, Mr. Adamson said that the new approach of the brand, including outfitting employees at a restaurant and chic hotels, was working.

“Getting the brand to be in the right place at the right time is the right approach,” Mr. Adamson said. “The consumer is so jaded and the marketplace is so cluttered today that it’s more about what a brand does than what a brand says.”

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