For about a century, agencies were purposefully designed to create advertising and marketing communications to promote and popularize the products of others—for money. That model worked just fine, and global ad corporations were created, fattened up, and feted by making us love brands, 30 seconds at a time.
But in our current direct-to-consumer era, some ad agencies are increasingly brand creators and not just brand promoters. Today, New York-based agency Gin Lane is taking these self-made goals a step further, announcing that it is shutting down its entire creative branding operation to relaunch the company as the parent organization to a family of impending lifestyle brands called Pattern. What makes Gin Lane think it’s uniquely qualified for such a drastic move? Over the agency’s 10-year history, it’s specialized in launching startup and direct-to-consumer brands like Harry’s, Stadium Goods, and Hello Alfred, as well as working with early-stage growth brands like Warby Parker, Sweetgreen, Everlane, and Bonobos.
“New York is going through this awesome time as an epicenter of consumer-centric, digital-first startups, and we’ve been very fortunate to be a part of that ecosystem,” says Gin Lane cofounder and chief creative officer Emmett Shine. “We’ve learned so much over that time. It’s been like seven years of apprenticeship. We saw an opportunity, and we think there’s something we can really add to the market.”
That opportunity, according to Shine and company CEO Nick Ling, is for a related group of brands to provide both products and services that directly address and help ease the growing sense of work-related stress they’re seeing, particularly among young people. They saw it not only in studies and media, but in themselves and their employees.
“At times, we just started feeling a little burnout, and Pattern really grew out of wanting to find this balance, whether it was wanting to branch out, keeping our leadership team together, or finding more meaning in our work,” says Shine.
Shine and Ling are positioning the new company, Pattern, to be an umbrella under which a number of new brands and products will launch. First up is a kitchen and cookware brand called Equal Parts. Ling describes Equal Parts, which will launch this fall, as a combination of high-quality cookware and guidance through content and community. This plays off a concept they’re calling direct-with-consumer, to emphasize the importance of engagement and community beyond just the product. It’ll be followed by a new brand launch every three to six months, with products in home organization and design.
“Over the next few weeks, we’ll be showing much more of how that will come to life,” says Ling. “A lot of what we’ll be doing is helping people to start to learn, and that doesn’t happen by just selling you a product. It happens by being a support network through that journey, almost like a friend or family member would be.”
In terms of transitioning the business, it’s been an ongoing process that Ling calls “more of a fader switch than a light switch,” with the agency still working with current clients while building up its Pattern capabilities. Shine says they toyed with the idea of doing both but ultimately realized it was an either-or decision.
“[As an agency] it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too,” says Shine. “So we decided if we were going to go for this, then we have to really go for it. We told our team almost two years ago that we were going for something different, and that meant eventually closing down the agency side of the business while still running the agency, but we want to keep our team together.”
A handful of agencies have taken a swing at creating brands of their own in the last 15 years or so. Back in 2006, BBH launched a whole division called Zag, dedicated to creating and launching new products and brands. Since then we’ve seen agency products as diverse as Brooklyn Brothers’ Fat Pig chocolate and Anomaly’s cannabis startup, Dosist.
But they didn’t shut down their ad or branding business and go all in.
Pattern’s experiment is one that every agency with product ambitions of its own will be watching closely.