Imbuing marketing with style-in Spades

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accessory design company Kate Spade marked its 10th anniversary this fall with a fabulous party, a real but stylized event captured on film. Consumers were invited to attend through a colorful, barely branded print campaign dubbed Decade. The campaign offers a glimpse into a whimsical yet classically `60s-styled world created by co-founders Kate and Andy Spade, first for their simple boxy handbags, then for stationery, shoes, glassware, beauty products and-new this spring-a home collection.

The ability to create an aspirational lifestyle brand so vivid as to have inspired a series of books by Ms. Spade offering tips on gracious living has sparked interest from other marketers seeking ways to create stories for their own brands, including Song Airlines and household products company Method. Andy Spade, longtime ad veteran turned creative director of Kate Spade and its offshoot men's brand Jack Spade, now faces a question: Should he formalize his ad-hoc creative consulting projects into a standalone branding company? The answer lies somewhere in the future.

Designer as brand consultant is a growing phenomenon. Kate Betts, editor of Time Inc.'s now-quarterly Time Style & Design said the already intense infiltration of design into marketing for companies far outside the typical realm of fashion is only just beginning.

fashionable approach

"There are so many different areas of product development being influenced by design-including home cleaning products that have become like beauty products-and in general companies seem to be taking a much more fashionable approach to marketing," Ms. Betts said.

The Spades' success at awakening the sleepy low-style tote bag category in 1993 can largely be attributed to marketing that, like the Decade campaign, presents a hybrid of reality and aspiration somewhere between unattainable high-fashion fantasy and uninspired everyday branding. As Mr. Spade suggests, "this is a world you can actually be in and it's nice in a simple way, and there's a story to it." It is the creation of just such a world that other marketers are seeking.

The Spades this year began designing uniforms for Delta Air Lines' low-cost Song. Mr. Spade has since helped design print, outdoor and TV ads breaking April 19 for the airline, working in conjunction with Song's agency of record, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, backed by MDC Partners. The Spades offer ideas on how Song might set itself apart as a sophisticated air travel experience. To that end, Mr. Spade and his creative team have designed a line of Song stationery and travel kits.

Mr. Spade and his team, likewise believing in an upgraded experience of house-cleaning, have also consulted for upstart household products company Method, San Francisco, which is run by former ad executive friends of Mr. Spade's.

The lawrences

The line of high-style cleaners, dish soap and handwash are sold at everyday prices at Target as well as upscale home stores such as New York's Terence Conran Shop. The company touts its wares as "must-have countertop accessories" because "cleaning your home should also be a reflection of who you are and how you want to live." Method's AOR is Crispin Porter Bogusky, Miami, also backed by MDC Partners.

Meanwhile, for its own brands, the Kate Spade creative team that includes Mr. Spade, Julia Leach and recent addition Alan Dye, formerly of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide's Brand Integration Group, continues to weave stories in nontraditional ways. Its print ads, following a fictional Tennessee family named the Lawrences whose daughter moves to New York, will appear in an exhibit at New York City's MoMA this spring dubbed "Fashioning Fiction in Photography since 1990."

Three books out this spring by Kate Spade, from Simon & Schuster, are titled "Style," "Occasions" and "Manners" and more are likely to follow. The Jack Spade brand, which already boasts a newspaper published on its behalf, will hopefully make its debut on a magazine-style show Mr. Spade is pitching to networks. Based on Hearst Magazine's Esquire in the `60s, he said, segments will feature such subjects as great offices over time and tours through iconic institutions such as New York bar P.J. Clarke's.

Fallon Worldwide trend analyst Tom Julian said the Spades could be very successful extending their vision into new channels and revenue streams. Like Martha Stewart, he said, "there is some psyche that Kate Spade is able to tap into and capitalize on, not trendy and fashionista, but rather the purity factor of a Midwesterner turned stylish New Yorker." Just like the Lawrences.

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