Rap, Ralph & Relevancy: How Polo's Marketing is Finally Embracing its History with Hip Hop.
Houston rapper Tobe Nwigwe recently landed a deal with Polo Ralph Lauren for his North American Ivory Tour. And as an ad woman, fellow southeast Texan, and hip-hop fan raised on Polo hand-me-downs, this deal quickly caught my attention.
Ralph Lauren and hip-hop go way back like four flats on a Cadillac. Ralph Lauren, formally Ralph Lifshitz, was born and raised in the Bronx and like most rappers, he didn’t start with much. He set out to create a tie company that many doubted and discouraged him from even starting. His tie company quickly transformed into the timeless Polo Ralph Lauren brand we know today. The hip-hop run streets of New York City made the Ralph Lauren brand infectious amongst the black community in a way that Mr. Ralph Lauren, himself could have never anticipated.
Over the years hip-hop has always embraced Polo. Even if that “embrace” meant boosting thefts by a local gang called the Lo Lifes. In today’s terms, we’d say the Lo Lifes were just doing a little organized influencer marketing that would later yield a huge ROI. But back then Ralph took a direct financial hit, and despite this, the brand took note and adjusted without out ever denouncing the black or hip-hop community.
The biggest commercial crossover moment for Polo and hip-hop came when Raekwon wore the Snow Beach pullover in Wu-Tang’s 1993 hit “Can It Be So Simple” music video. This iconic moment connects us to one of Polo’s first big marketing plays in the last 5 years to re-emerge into the youth culture conversation.
We are in the age of throwback releases, so Polo gave us what we wanted. In January 2018 Polo re-released the Snow Beach Collection. Plucked straight from the ’90s and fully embracing the trends of today, this announcement had Polo loving '90s babies like me ready to break the bank. This re-release sparked a lot of new conversations around Polo and attracted a lot of “hypebeast” interest back to the brand. Why they didn’t give Raekwon a call for the re-release, I’ll never know. But true to the culture, he found a way to make his money off the hype regardless.
In the last 5 years, Polo has also re-released their ’92 Stadium Collection, and they hosted an intimate conversation in Chicago between GQ and Kanye West on the evolution of men’s wear and the influence of Ralph Lauren.
While Hip Hop has always embraced Polo, this is the first time we are starting to see the seeding of Polo commercially embracing hip-hop. Brief History Recap: NYC has the Lo-Life’s craze, Wu-Tang had the Polo Snow Beach moment, Kanye gave us the Polo Pink Tee prep school moment, and recently Chance the Rapper wore the Polo Flag bear on SNL. But in all of these major cultural moments, it was hip-hop to Polo. (Although, I’m still side eye-ing the Chance SNL sweater moment)
Then as I was casually scrolling on the good ole Instagram, I came across a video that broke my timeline hypnosis. A Polo partnership with H-Town representative, purpose-driven rapper, hip-hop newcomer and industry game-changer, Tobe Nwigwe. Ralph finally cut the check!
So, is this the first hip hop Polo Ralph Lauren partnership? By my Googles, it does appear so. Now, why?
Tobe Nwigwe is a Nigerian American rapper from my side of the country, Houston, Texas. His goal: Make purpose popular.
Always seen with his wife, Fat, and producer LaNell Grant, this trio works together in a southern family based creative partnership. They are often mistaken as a group or a band of sorts, and while they don’t take that label, what they do recognize is that they are a powerful creative force. Starting from #GetTwistedSundays this trio has created a classic vibe, and flow, with a timeless aesthetic that has caught the attention of Dave Chappelle, Jidenna, Sway Calloway, mutha herself Miss Erykah Badu and Mrs. Michelle Obama.
Tobe’s brand emits purpose, family, independence, and a timeless flow. All pillars that align with the Polo Ralph Lauren Brand. This sponsorship looked like Ralph Lauren was welcoming Tobe and his family into the Polo family.
They did a family photo shoot with the whole crew including LaNell’s baby along with Tobe & Fat’s new baby girl. Polo hosted Family Dinners with the rapper and his fans in select cities at Polo Ralph Lauren restaurants, and they put out a five-part content series capturing a look back at the tour.
Polo showed up as a brand to support a rapper on his mission in a way that was timely, relevant, and authentic. Polo linked up, then got out of the way to let the artist carry out their aligning brand values.
Since the re-release of the ’92 Stadium Collection and the Snow Beach collection, some have been side-eyeing Polo as if it’s just a way to cash in on cultural relevance. But the fact is, one, that’s what everyone is doing, and secondly, Polo is doing it in a way that is still true to their brand and honors the world of hip-hop. And they’re not hiding it. Directly on the Ralph Lauren website, they show that their first strategic priority is “win over a new generation.” And three things the new generation loves are the 90’s, hip hop, and purpose.
Tobe's purpose-driven mission is ushering in a new wave of rap, hip hop fans, and a fresh hip hop aesthetic like we've never seen before. And together he and Polo can amplify the spread of that new wave while building an authentic cultural connection with an emerging audience. So, as a Polo Ralph Lauren brand fan, and a fan of hip-hop, I hope Polo continues to lean in and align itself with the culture that it will forever be connected to.
Congratulations to Tobe an' nem. Po' it up and I'll see yall at the next family reunion!