Byline: Kavita Daswani

Whether it’s putting a cowboy hat on a would-be prom queen or making a lip gloss appear necessary for survival, Price Arana believes that in advertising, the unexpected works best.
The founder of the Press Cabinet, a four-year-old boutique agency on Melrose Avenue, Arana has earned a reputation for working outside the proverbial box.
When creating a campaign for hip and locally based beauty brand Stila, Arana eschewed the usual formulaic faces of beauty, and came up with vivid illustrations. So successful were they that a heap of look-alikes have followed.
For Zum Zum, one of the country’s top prom dress makers, there are no ads showing frothy gowns worn by perfect teen queens. Arana’s answer? Bring in an edgy sensibility: a cowboy hat worn with a pastel gown, an interracial couple in the Americana suburban landscape, or lean, wholesome boys in open-necked ruffle shirts.
Loree Rodkin, a Los Angeles fine jewelry designer who caters to the stars, chose ads that create an aura of low-key luxury around her product, without focusing too heavily on the pieces themselves.
While each campaign must be distinctive, Arana agreed a unifying thread ran through all of them.
“If you cover up the logo on any of these campaigns, you’ll still be able to identify them,” she said. “That’s something I really strive to make happen for each company.”
Married to actor Thomas Arana, and the mother of 3 1/2-month old Joaquin, the Chicago native is also an advertising veteran, having slogged away at other agencies before opening her own.
Even as she climbed the ranks, she knew that even fledgling companies could afford to think big.
“I believed that no company was too young or too small to advertise. I didn’t go soliciting, but I just had the good fortune of clients coming with me.”
She also realized the only way to make a brand have the impact companies pay millions for was to become a chameleon: for the sake of dreaming up ads, one day she’ll imagine being a 17-year-old in search of a prom dress; the next, she’s a 30-year-old who and wants to change her looks via make-up.
Once she’s done with the creative side of ad-making, Arana says the next step is to be a savvy media buyer.
“I spend my client’s dollars as if they were my own — if they aren’t spent right, nothing works. I don’t want clients for just one season. I want them for life. Knock on wood — I haven’t lost any to other agencies yet.”
Judging by what her clients say about her, she’s not likely to anytime soon.
Rodkin, a Press Cabinet client since day one, says that since she signed on with Arana, she’s had invaluable brand name recognition and a steadily growing business.
“She let me know how important branding and doing campaigns really are,” said Rodkin. “I had never done any advertising prior to us working together.”
Arana bought full-page color pages for Rodkin in Harper’s Bazaar, In Style and Elle. But she cautioned her client not to expect people “calling the next day begging to buy the jewelry.”
Instead, said Rodkin, business gradually grew beyond her stable of private celebrity clients and into top-notch stores. She now spends 10 percent of her annual turnover on advertising.
For Paris Blues, a teen-orientated denim company, Arana came up with comic-book style characters that appear on hang tags and back pockets as well as print ads. The campaign runs in Seventeen, CosmoGirl and Teen People. There was also a cross promotion last year with the hit TV series “That 70’s Show.”
Arana says she works best when her clients sit back and let her design.
“They just put it in my hands,” she said. “That’s my specialty, my forte. I wouldn’t for a minute presume to know anything about semiprecious stones or finding the right foundation.”
Stila’s founder, Jeanine Lobell, is more than happy to put Arana in the driver’s seat when it comes to the brand’s whimsical, colorful and hugely effective ad campaigns.
“It’s her strategy,” said Lobell. “I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t.”
Still, Lobell deserves all the credit for coming up with the fun, must-have products driving the campaign. The fruit-flavored Lip Glazes are pitched in a series of postcard-style print ads featuring the illustrations Stila is renowned for, and carrying the tag line “Wish you were here.”
“We only use illustrations. The idea is for the campaigns to reflect the personality of the brand, to be humorous, whimsical and clever,” said Arana.
It’s also important to monitor where a brand and its products are headed, she added, and then tailor-make a campaign to suit it. One of Zum Zum’s previous series, titled “Modern Romance,” harmonized with the pale colors underscoring the collection.
Niki Livas, co-owner of 32-year-old Zum Zum, said Arana’s campaigns allowed the company “to stand out from the rest of the pack.”
With an annual budget of some $1 million, Livas advertises on billboards, buses and kiosks and in publications such as Marie Claire.
And the “Modern Romance” series of ads, with their slight edginess, “made us the talk of the markets.”
“People look at us in a different light,” said Livas. “It’s built brand awareness. Price is very creative, and has her finger on the pulse of a younger audience.”
With competition for selling space in stores becoming increasingly stiff, Arana believes advertising can be a brand’s best ally. But only if it’s done well.
“A million dollars spent on advertising can result in $2 million or $3 million in business,” she said.
“But unless you have great creative, you shouldn’t advertise. If a client can’t afford to do it well, I tell them to sit out a season.”
And given the softening in the U.S. economy, many brands may do just that — although Arana says that it’s when things slow down that advertising should be revved up.
“That’s the best time to advertise. There’s less clutter in magazines, so ads are more showcased. And the perception of a company is not that ‘times are tough,’ but that they are the strong ones.”