POLO SELLS - Luxury brands & Polo, a match made in heaven
A visitor from another planet might be excused for thinking that polo was the world's most popular sport, given the numbers of people wearing sh irts with a polo player logo on them - far greater than those wearing Real Madrid or New York Yankees replica sports tops. The visitor might also wonder why the images of polo players and games have been used by such a wide variety of manufacturers to advertise their products and services over the last 120 years. Some of the earliest examples of polo adverts I have found are from the 1890s, such as Ellimans for their eponymous Embrocation, which features a drawing of a polo match, and James Buchanan & Co. Scotch Whisky distillers who used an advert with a polo player at full tilt about to play an offside forehand with the slogan 'Black & White Leads' . Now, luxury brands such as Jaeger-Lecoultre and Royal Salute Whisky are inextricably linked to the sport, which they include within their present day advertising and marketing strategies. This article looks at some of the ways that a polo theme has been used - some of which might seem obvious and some rather unusual.
The image of polo has been widely used to advertise men's and women's clothing. In 1945, men's fashion ta iloring business, Brioni began in Rome. Named after an Ital ian island, which had been one of the most exclusive resorts in the first decades of the 20th century, it was also home to the first Ita lian polo Club founded in 1924. The promoters of the new tailoring brand had been inspired in the choice of name for their business by a 1937 Italian State Tourist poster that promoted the island with an illustration of an elegant polo player. Brioni adapted the image of the player (regarded by them then and now as "the only elite sport left in the world") as their insignia
and they registered the logo in 1952 and used it on the lining of their jackets and stamped it on their blazer buttons.
In the 1930s, the Bachrach Company advertised a new line of woven foulard neckties, which were called 'Hurlingham' and the advert featured a sketch of a polo game in progress. I have an early advert for men's detachable shirt 'Polo' collars that uses the image of a mounted polo player. In 1937, Timely Climateer Topcoats are shown being worn by spectators at a polo match. A wide range of cloth ing stores including Saks-Fifth Avenue, B. Altman, Gunther Furs and Henry Bendel all advertised clothes to wear when watching polo. I also found an advert with a polo theme from the 1940s advertising Martyn Fisher's fully fashioned lace stockings for ladies for golf and country activities. Andre Gillier, a hosiery manufacturer, launched the Rene Lacoste mesh tennis shirts in the 1930s and used a polo player in some of their adverts too.
The polo shirt, as an informal fashion item, had first appeared in the late 19th Century and there are references to casual shi rts described as "just the thing for hot weather, new line polos" in the American press at that time. In 1893, the American Economics and Business Magazine commented on the " new version of the 'polo' shirt which had been seen being worn by the players from the Hurlingham Polo Club near Buenos Aires". In 1896 John Brooks - grandson of the founder of Brooks Brothers - introduced a button-down collar shirt, which he had designed after watching an Eng lish polo match, where Brooks observed that the players' shirt collars were secured with buttons to keep them from flapping in the wind. Probably the first example of a polo shirt with an embroidered emblem of a mounted po lo player, was in the 1920s and was sold by a shop in Buenos Aires that had been opened by leading polo player, Lewis Lacey.
In 1967, the former Brooks Brothers tie salesman, Ralph Lauren (he had changed his name from Ralph Lifshitz) started selling his own designed ties, which he labelled 'Polo'. In the early 1970s, Lauren released a line of tailored women's suits with a polo player logo (sim ilar to that used by Brioni) on the cuff and in '72 he launched a range of short sleeve cotton pique shirts with his polo logo. Lauren had obtained the rights to use the 'Po lo' trademark from Brooks Brothers, however as part of the agreement, the company retained the rights to the description of the 'Original Polo Button Down Collar Shirt'.
Timepieces & Jewellery
Rolex, Longines, Hublot, Omega and Richard Mille are some of the luxury watchmakers that have used polo imagery in their adverts. Perhaps the culmination of this association was the iconic 1930s Art Deco Reverso watch designed by Jaeger-Lecoultre at the request of British Army officers in India who challenged the Swiss watchmaker to produce a watch that was both elegant and able to survive the rigours of a polo match. Many jewe llers have included a polo theme to advertise their products - most notably Cartier's long association with The Coronation Cup and now The Queen's Cup at Guards.
There is a wonderful 1939 advert of a polo player sitting on the running board of a Studebaker President automobile. In '59, Austin-Healey - "the sports-car of sportsmen" - was marketed with a po lo theme and the car was described as "to be driven by the man who lives for swift, sure-footed action". In the 1960s, a Saab advert
showed a player leaning out of the front window with a polo stick in his hand and stated "we don't expect you to play polo in a Saab (though it has been done)". Polo has also featured in advertisements for Li ncoln Cars, Plymouth Savoy Estate Cars, Fisher Bodies, Citroen, Cadillac La Salle, Buick, Packard, Maxwell 25 and for the Nissan Pathfinder which suggested that "chances are, you won't be rounding up seven friends and having a go at the game of kings ... But with the Nissan Pathfinder, you 'll never be more tempted". Volkswagen took the association with the sport to the limit when they launched the VW Polo. More recently, Audi have inextricably
associated their brand with polo through The Audi Internationa l Polo Series and their sponsorship of the England polo team.
Whilst most of the adverts have been pitched at the luxury end of the car market, in the 1940s the De Soto Company used a polo theme to advertise "America 's smartest low priced car".
The Texaco Gasoline Company used an advert in 1928 for motor oi l featuring a polo player standing at the side of a polo match ta lking to girls dressed in the flapper fashion of the Twenties. The advert read: "there is nothing like it - nothing quite so thrilling as the instant obedience of a seasoned polo pony - un less it is the smooth, unfaltering power response to the new and better Texaco". Mobilgas used polo in its adverts and stated that, "You have seen movies of polo games - how those ponies race, turn, get away fast! That's the quick action you want when you drive". Perhaps unsurprisingly, images of polo have been included in adverts to sell car tyres and wheels such as those of Dunlop and Englebert Ambassador. In 1937, New Departure Ball Bearings featu red a polo pony and described their product as being "pedigreed to serve you better" whilst twenty years later, Kelsey Hayes of Detroit used a polo image to promote their "smartly styled car wheels".
Food & Drink
Polo images have been used frequently by the food and beverage industry. I have found adverts for Austin Nichols & Co. 'Cut Green Spring Beans'; High-Goal 'Californian Asparagus'; Polo brand Cal ifornian oranges - even concentrated tomato paste and sardines. Crawford's and Huntley & Palmers have used polo to advertise their biscuits and Whitman's Chocolates claimed to "give energy for the game and zest to the [polo] players". In the 1950s, a Nescafe Instant Coffee advert advised that polo was "a strenuous game! Tensely following every twist and bril liant manoeuvre, we onlookers too, share in our way the rigou rs of the game. It's a good thing that the lunch-basket contained supplies of [Nescafe] alerting brain and nerve, fi tting us to play an appreciative part". Polo Premium Fruit Juices explains the inclusion of a polo player in their adverts "since polo is a high-end sport that holds the nickname 'The Sport of Kings', we thought our liquid much like the sport". Carli ng Red Cap used Peter Perkins to advert ise their beer and suggested that "a truly fine ale, like a high scoring polo team, must have a character all its own". Whisky, brandy and gin distillers such as Hiram Walker, PM ("the champion of whisk ies"), Canadian Club, Haig & Haig, Seagram's Canadian Whisky, VAT 69 ("preferred by sportsmen the world over") and Hen nessey Cognac have used polo images in their adverts. Canada Dry Ginger Ale advertised that it was "a beverage which makes them [polo players] keener, more fit to play the game of kings and princes". But it was not only the drinks themselves, but the bars where they were consumed that incorporated the polo theme. The Beverly Hills Polo Lounge and the Polo Bar at the Westbury Hotel in London's Mayfair and the erstwhile Westbury Hotel Polo Bar in New York's Manhattan are examples.
In 1913, Turkish Trophies Cigarettes issued a series of paintings called "Hamilton King Girls", one - 'Polo Girl' - featured an elegant girl in a tailored coat holding a polo stick. Player's Cigarettes had an advert featuring a mounted polo player smoking and leaning across to light a cigarette of a horsewoman. In the 1940s, Camel used Cecil Smith, the American 1 O goaler, to advertise their brand with the copy that "experience is the best teacher in polo .. and cigarettes! Camels suit me best". The advert also boasted that "more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette". A series of advertisements for Herbert Taryeton Cigarettes used photographs of polo players including Mr Henry Lewis 111, Robert Skene and Peter Perkins. The cla im was that "discerning people prefer Herbert Taryeton cigarettes " as demonstrated by Peter Perkins who was a "discriminating judge of horses and equally discerning in his choice of cigarettes". A poster from 1938 has a painting by the Hungarian artist Lajos Marton of a polo player hitting a near side backhand shot to advertise Polo - American Blend Cigarettes. There were Polo Club cigarettes in Paraguay, Polo cigarettes in Poland, Ogden's Polo Cigarettes and Polo Lights - American Blend in Germany. A Murad, The Turkish Cigarette advert shows a mounted polo player smoking with the claim that "the man - chosen from a hundred polo players for skill and nerve. The horse - chosen from a thousand polo ponies for speed and courage. The cigarette - MURAD chosen everywhere, for Quality and Enjoyment, by men who know". In 1968 Jaguar Gold Label used a polo theme to sell their cigars.
More unusual items that have used a polo theme include a 1933 Listerine Tooth Paste ad with the by-line " isn 't it funny, that people with money, prefer a 25 cent toothpaste". Gillette Blue Razor Blades featured the polo player Peter Perkins to claim that their blades made the user " look sharp, feel sharp and be sharp". In 1947, Eveready claimed that "the electricity energy in a tiny Eveready flashlight cell would drive a polo ball the full length of the field - 300 yards - and do it 7 times, to score 7 goals". Copper & Brass Lightning Rods and Conductors had an advert with photos of Tommy Hitchcock's and Harry Payne Whitney's polo ponies. Cessna Aircraft in October 1941 showed a pilot leaning out of the aeroplane cockpit to hit a polo ball and stated: "with that sleek mount he can really take the ball through for a winner". In the 1930s, Mimeograph advertised that "Accuracy. The fine precision of a skilful polo player is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in all the realms of sport. The faithfulness with which a Mimeograph reproduces a typewritten sheet is also a high achievement in accuracy". In the 1950s, McCullough compared their outboard motors to a polo pony and suggested they were "the most obedient, smoothest-performing package of dynamite-on-water that you can command". Some of the most unusual polo themed adverts I have come across are those for Saraka laxative - which showed how the Emperor 'lnbad the Ailer' was able to recover from constipation after taking Sakara to be able to play in an important polo match. Fleischmann's Yeast using polo imagery claimed their product could ensure "a well regulated body."
Polo - a sport played by only around 30,000 people worldwide - clearly carries a lot of weight in advertising kudos judging by the popularity of it as an image to advertise everything from car tyres to laxatives and from lightning rods to timepieces and a whole lot more. An established advertising maxim is that 'sex sells', but clearly 'polo sells' too.