Squarespace is Ad Age 2020 A-List In-House Agency of the Year
Squarespace is no stranger to celebrity-driven marketing campaigns. In recent years, the brand, which sells software for website creation, has teamed up with the likes of Keanu Reeves, John Malkovich, Chance the Rapper and, more recently, Idris Elba. But unlike many other marketers that have tapped high-profile agencies for big campaigns, Squarespace creates the majority of its advertising wholly in-house.
“For a company that values creativity and has a maker culture, I don’t know if we could do it any other way,” says David Lee, chief creative officer of the New York-based company. He says that in the “agency world,” a lot of time is spent in boardrooms with presentations and decks, but his company would rather spend such valuable hours creating, producing and testing ideas in the real world. In-housing gives the company—which has about 100 staffers who work on brand design, creative production and content—the ability to be more agile, he adds. “Squarespace is a do-it-yourself platform—we try to enable creatives and entrepreneurs to put their ideas out to the world, so it makes perfect sense for us to have a DIY approach to how we do our creative work as well,” says Lee, who joined Squarespace seven years ago after working at agencies including TBWA and Wieden+Kennedy.
That approach has paved the way for the 17-year-old company’s recent work, including a brand redesign, which incorporated a kinetic-based logo emblematic of the company’s Big Apple roots; a dreamy brand campaign with Elba; and a clever art initiative with “Sesame Street” puppet Oscar the Grouch. Part of Squarespace’s strategy involves incorporating insight from some of its new product features into the ads themselves—for example, a campaign might highlight a new gallery feature or showcase a film product offering that is a unique part of Squarespace’s platform.
That process goes both ways. Collaborating on marketing with customers like Reeves, who used Squarespace to create a site for his motorcycle company, helps provide takeaways for future product development.
In the first half of 2019, Squarespace worked with Elba and director Spike Jonze on a campaign highlighting the possibilities business owners can realize when they use the platform. In one 60-second spot called “Dream It,” Elba lip-syncs the words to “Que Sera, Sera” over a child’s voice as the video shows career possibilities including a boxer, puppeteer, designer and astronaut. A lengthy video, showcasing Elba creating a Squarespace site for his clothing line, accompanied the spot.
Lee says that Elba asked for his products to be displayed in a grid in a specific way—one that was not part of the Squarespace site options. Lee’s team added the grid for the commercial, and then made it a permanent offering for users.
“We feel like good design isn’t just pretty wallpaper—it actually means good business,” says Lee. “If someone as iconic as Idris Elba can use our product, and a high-end brand can use our platform as well—there’s something empowering that a small business owner down the street has access to the same thing for the same price.”
While Squarespace has become known for large-scale Super Bowl ads with celebrities—this year, the company tapped Winona Ryder for a humorous spot set in the town of Winona—its smaller, quirkier projects have also helped drive results and engagement. Through a partnership with “Sesame Street,” Squarespace created a holiday campaign with Oscar the Grouch that showcased the lovable green grump as an artist creating coveted trash sculptures. The campaign spawned a real-life art e-commerce site on Squarespace that sold out within 24 hours.
“We’re using a product—our e-commerce features—to not only tell a narrative, but also showcase a real-life example of how to use the platform,” says Lee. The long-form Oscar video accumulated more than 7 million YouTube views in the first few weeks after launch and resulted in a more than 6 percent lift in brand awareness, according to Squarespace.
As part of Squarespace’s mission for consistency, an initiative that played a role in the in-house studio’s formation four years ago, the company rebranded its logo and design system in late 2018, an effort that rolled out in early 2019. The rebranding, done in part with DIA Studio, integrated a bespoke typeface and moving logo emblematic of Squarespace’s interactive website features. It was favorably received.
“I very much commend Squarespace for going in what is a relatively drastic direction that aims to convey that they are not your average platform, and that a commitment to design is a big part of what they offer,” wrote Armin Vit, a design critic, on his blog Brand New. “A large part of their audience, I assume, are still graphic designers who don’t code and use Squarespace either for their own websites or for their clients’ websites, and for that audience, this is perfect.”