Cross sexes up pen category with Verve campaign

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Can your pen make you more sensual? It can if you believe a print campaign for Verve, a line of luxury pens just launched by A.T. Cross.

Created by Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, and shot by fashion photographer Kelly Klein, (yes, Calvin's ex), the mostly black-and-white, steamy executions could easily be mistaken for the lifestyle ads used by lingerie or perfume marketers. But the sex is selling upscale Verve pens, priced from $95 to $450, that come in platinum and gold finishes.

"We're trying to make the category more sexy," said Bruce Willox, director-global communications and Americas marketing at Cross.

As the third effort for Cross in as many years, the new effort continues the "Inspired" tagline and will run in fashion titles, including Hearst Corp.'s Esquire, Conde Nast Publications' GQ and Time Inc.'s In Style. Media planning and buying is handled by Interpublic Group of Cos.' sibling Media-First International, New York.

With pen sales sagging, Cross has worked to evolve into a branded-accessories marketer. In April, the company acquired Costa Del Mar sunglasses, following earlier expansion efforts with watches and leather goods.

"These are all lifestyle products pushing the brand beyond the perception of just writing instruments by connecting with people's lifestyles," Mr. Willox said.

Through the first nine months of this year, sales from pens and accessories fell 5.3% compared with the same period last year.

Cross is a distant second in the $600 million worldwide quality writing instrument market, according to J. P. Mark, senior analyst with Farmhouse Equity Research. He estimates that Mont Blanc controls roughly 28% of the market, followed by Cross with 19% and Waterman at 13.5%. He said Cross and Mont Blanc don't really compete for the same consumer. "It's the difference between a luxury item and a premium item," he said. "It's a tough comparison."

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