by Yash Egami

At Duffy & Partners, the strategy is simple: establish a brand through design. Apple does it, so does Target. Duffy and Fallon's "Island Hopping" campaign did it for the Bahamas by turning the vacation destination into a string of jewels. And Duffy & Partners' latest work for the Thymes is built around a younger, hipper image that appeals to an audience who values style as much as substance. Joe Duffy spoke with one about his latest work and how design plays a role in creating an emotional connection with a brand.

Your redesign for the Thymes has received rave reviews and has reintroduced the brand. Talk about the strategy behind it.
The Thymes has been around for 25 years and they've really led this category of bath and beauty products for the home and also as gifts. But as it happens in so many categories, the younger, newer, cooler brands have taken significant amounts of their market share away and made them seem outdated and your mother's brand as opposed your brand. So when they gave us the brief on what they wanted, they put it in an interesting way—they said, "We need a new haircut." Their image had become old and dowdy, and they wanted to be hipper and appeal to younger women. So what we did was basically worked to infuse a younger, cooler aesthetic into the brand while remaining true to what they are. Their products are fantastic—they use only the best ingredients, their scents are always so wonderful and they're always on the leading edge of chemistry for this product line. We needed to keep this in mind but at the same time be more fashionable and updated. If you look at where they were and where they are now, two things are apparent: it's more about design, and design is more appropriate for today and a younger audience, and it is also more eclectic. Their product lines always looked very much the same, and there was a graphic standard system in place which had labels the same size in the same place and the logo was always front and center, and everything blended together and it came across as somewhat boring. If you look at it now, there's a new, overall brand language that we created that can be used in many different ways. It can be incorporated with individual product languages so that it keeps it fresh and alive and somewhat surprising and appropriate for each product, yet when you put it all together, it's obvious that it's all coming to you from the Thymes. They don't speak to you as one big conglomerate; they speak to you as individual brands and products in the Thymes voice.

Why do some companies succeed while others fail with a brand?
I think Apple, Nike and MINI are good examples of brands that are successful because of design. Realistically, you have to start with a great product, and great products have an awful lot to do with design. It has to have something that's better than the competition, or it wouldn't have a reason to exist. It starts there, but then how it's presented in the industrial design or packaging or P.O.P. or environmental is where there's an opportunity to differentiate it, and that also comes with design. If you look at the great brands that do that like Apple, you know who that TV spot is coming from even before you see the end frame with the logo on it, or before you read the logo on the package, or even before you see the sign outside the Apple store. Design is what separates them in their core product and the way it's brought to you. What TBWAChiatDay does so well is that they take what the designers did at Apple with the products and then they present advertising that's still speaking with that Apple voice. It's a great example of collaboration and making sure that the design and communication is in sync and that it projects the personality of the brand in the right way.

If companies who are in charge of brands have different people saying different things, the voice of the brand becomes schizophrenic. But if you have a Steve Jobs or Phil Knight who says that design is paramount to their success and they need to be consistent in the way it's dealt with through the messaging and advertising, then people work together because they have to and because he demands it. More often that not, you'll see that there is a design visionary at the top of the great brands. But a lot of times you'll get involved with brand managers or marketers who have different agendas and points of view, or you might have a design group and an advertising group within a large organization who might not communicate properly or be in sync with what the brand voice should be. So when they collaborate with their outside people, many times they're speaking with different voices, and subsequently the design group and advertising group are going in different directions. And then what you see on television or print isn't in sync with the way that product is packaged or presented to the audience in the end.

With the lines between design and advertising fading, will we see a resurgence of design firms within larger agencies?
The idea of all-in-one shops with advertising and design under one roof looks great on paper, but the reason why it so seldom works is because to date, most of the agencies have taken the lead. Advertising has been given the lion's share of the ad budget, and many clients believe that it's the most important aspect of their marketing communications. So the agencies I think have taken advantage of that. Many have added design as a sort of afterthought as opposed to something to go in and lead with. I think what we're seeing now are smaller agencies starting with a different proposition and they're creating creative briefs that are more along the lines of what we use in design briefs. They go to the core of the brand first before starting to create an ad campaign. Agencies like Crispin and Taxi and Mother are saying, let's figure out what the brand is about, and then we'll decide what we need to do. And if it's design first, then we'll do design first. It's more of a media-neutral position where you figure out the brand first as opposed to going in with the strategy of doing an ad campaign first. The clients have become much more aware that design is very important and that maybe they shouldn't be spending as much money on advertising, or maybe they need to go to agencies that have a more neutral point of view on what to do.

To read more of our interview with Joe Duffy, pick up a copy of the latest issue of one. a magazine.

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