D’Addario breaks through the noise with VSA

The rarest of companies: one that counts its history not in years but in centuries. For D’Addario, started in 1600s Italy making strings from sheep gut and transplanted to New York in the early 20th century, that means combining an old-world sense of craftsmanship with a new-world sense of adventure. Over the last 50 years, with a number of acquired brands added to its stable, D’Addario gained significant market share for accessories for guitars, percussion, wind instruments, orchestral instruments and more. Yet its brand recognition beyond the strings category was not significant, and those brands (including Evans, ProMark and Rico) were not always publicly linked to the innovative and pioneering equities of the D’Addario brand. As any musician knows, it’s hard but necessary work to turn a cacophony of competing sounds into a smoothly functioning symphony. When D’Addario recognized the need for a brand conductor, they turned to VSA Partners.

VSA’s work with D’Addario began with a summit held in 2012, where the pair worked to identify the essence of the company’s brand. Together, they identified five core values: the spark of creativity within the engineering of products; the passion for the art of making music; the cultural diversity of products and people, best reflected in their New York home; the thrill of music itself; and the company culture of respect and care. These values coalesced in a simple and direct brand purpose: inspiring performance.

VSA’s Partner and Client Engagement Lead Jonathan Turitz led the summit. “We worked closely with D’Addario for months to uncover what drove them, beyond a pure love of music reflected in everything they created,” he said. “Being musicians, they seek perfection from tools they themselves would be proud to use; that kind of quest inspires customers—and themselves—to continue a legacy of innovation. And as a family-run company, D’Addario knew the more they treat customers as family, the more success they’ll find.” The brand book that resulted from the summit had surprising results, as Turitz noted. “D’Addario has been unwavering in their commitment to the principles we outlined there. Every decision they make is informed and guided by the book. It’s been quite impressive to witness.”

D’Addario’s new logo evolved out of the summit as well, as a stamp of quality and familiarity needed for a massive number of products and diverse range of music types. “The versatile nature required of the logo meant that we had to give it a timeless look,” said Associate Partner and Executive Creative Director Thom Wolfe, who led the rebranding. VSA chose a classic typeface for the mark, while the monogram D had its roots in six-string guitars (as well as the company’s six businesses joining to form one.) “The logo was one more step in making sure D’Addario achieved its well-deserved iconic status,” added Wolfe.

“The most important lesson we learned from the process was that we were running six brands all in different ways,” said D’Addario CEO Jim D’Addario. “There was no uniform brand purpose and we weren’t getting or taking credit for the many great things the company has done and continues to do. By realizing that our pioneering and innovating was what got us to where we are now, it was easy to start making better business decisions.”

Some of those decisions came about in 2013, when VSA and D’Addario set up a five-year plan for redesigning the packaging of each product line. According to Wolfe, “the brand book was our north star when we began addressing D’Addario’s packaging—it conveyed a voice that was vibrant, action-oriented and based on performance. That had tremendous potential for translating to products. It was necessary for us to change D’Addario from a house of brands to a branded house.” The packaging roadmap sprang from a master brand architecture, which reflected a massive research project across every D’Addario brand and category, including interviews with dealers, distributors, instructors, players and publications. It resulted in changes to their product offerings—the Planet Waves line of accessories, for example, is phasing out so it can join the master D’Addario brand.

D’Addario’s XL strings line remains their flagship product and was the first redesign in production; VSA reinforced the line’s iconic stature by adding guitar-heroic performance photography in the background and updating the classic XL circle logo. Next up was packaging for the new Reserve clarinet mouthpiece, based upon a rare design treasured by American classical musicians; the box combines the technical challenges of mass-producing it and the heritage of D’Addario quality. Following those were new packages for the hundreds of Planet Waves accessories, Evans Level 360 drumheads, bowed strings like ProArte and Prelude, acoustic guitar strings and many more.

These projects led into the next phase of the long-term relationship: turning VSA into the primary brand advisor, offering creative direction and strategic oversight as D’Addario built an internal creative team upon the vast and now-permanent palette of brand values. Recent packaging projects are shared between Wolfe and D’Addario’s team, with visual concepts started at VSA and finished by D’Addario. One such product was D’Addario’s NYXL electric strings, introduced this spring via Rolling Stone and a weekly article series called “Young Guns” that spotlights 30 up-and-coming guitarists across genres. This type of strategic partnership is another reflection of D’Addario’s values—it combines the tested quality of the instruments with the inspiring talent of their performers—and reinforces the brand’s iconic and authentic voice in the online age.

D’Addario continues to push new packaging to market on a regular basis and create dynamic digital experiences like NYXL Story, which brings D’Addario products full circle and back to the timeless, gritty sophistication of New York. And long-term collaborations like VSA’s work to promote the D’Addario Foundation’s philanthropic efforts to promote music education pay off for the company as well. “Two years in, we’re seeing the payoff,” reported Jim D’Addario. “Our creative team now numbers more than twenty, built out with help from VSA. VSA works closely with us to fine-tune marketing initiatives and the near-complete rebranding and repackaging effort for each product line. People recognize the D’Addario name and brand as the creative leader in the world of musical accessories. We’re lucky to have VSA help us continue in the direction we laid out together.”

Summarizing VSA’s engagement, Turitz remarked, “We’re proud of having helped to build a strong identity and brand architecture atop a widely respected line-up of well crafted products. And we’re glad to keep guiding D’Addario in the realization of their vision of true performance.”