In 1997, former newsstand employee Paul Frank launched his namesake brand with a line of vinyl wallets created in his garage on a Singer sewing machine. Today, this Costa Mesa, California-based brand has grown a reach so vast, Paul Frank retail stores are opening with each blink of an eye as far as Seoul and Qatar, with locations in Dubai, Australia, and Prague slated to open in 2006. Countless retailers around the globe keep hipsters clamoring for its ever-expanding product line, including clothing, children's wear, watches, glasses, swimwear, bags, and even bikes.
A brand built around a ubiquitous monkey icon called Julius and its campy motto, "Paul Frank is your friend," Paul Frank has a certain part-skate punk, part-70s flavor designed to combine cute with counterculture. Its selective co-branding and licensing efforts with the likes of ProKeds and Mattel, as well as lifestyle events such as the Coachella Arts Festival in Southern California, have been successful in keeping that monkey in plain sight, as well as in reinforcing its association with the counterculture. We visited paulfrank.com to see how this monkey business fares online.
The site opens with a Flash tribute to artist Andy Warhol, complete with the banana image that Warhol designed for a Velvet Underground album cover ("The Velvet Underground and Nico"), strains of the album on an endless loop, and a page-long Warhol bio to properly educate visitors about the late influential artist. This value-added content is somewhat fitting, as most of Paul Frank's designs are based on the principles of consumerism and pop-art, Warhol's genre of work.
Overall, the look and feel of the site falls perfectly in line with the brand's design sensibility, maintaining consistency throughout with a subtle 70s influence. A top navigation bar lines a mock catalog in the center of the page, taking visitors through the Paul Frank experience page-by-page. As users click through from section to section, the navigation bar changes to address each subtopic/brand, with page-turning prompts on the bottom, adding ease to its usability. Images of each product line are presented with slick, magazine-worthy photography, but offer few, if any, product names or numbers—one of the site's few disappointments. This virtual catalog covers all of Paul Frank's product lines, such as Small Paul (kids' clothing and accessories line), Optometrics, Swimming (swimsuits), Timing (watches), and even bikes. The navigation itself uses messaging that fits with the brand's clever, cheeky flavor.
The best part about paulfrank.com is that it does a great job of depicting and supporting the brand lifestyle, down to its grassroots marketing efforts. For example, armed with a sewing machine in a Winnebago (very seventies and very on-brand), Paul Frank traveled the country on a "Get to Know Me" in-store tour. The site dedicates a page to this effort with clips displayed on a page with a faux seventies-era television, complete with clickable dials that manipulate the footage.
With so much Paul Frank product all over the world, people need to know where to get it. The Stores area does a pretty good job of this, providing users with a map with addresses of all of the Paul Frank storefronts; it also contains a handy retail locator that searches stores by ZIP code. It's slow to load, though.
Visually, paulfrank.com is all you would expect a design-based brand to be. It's a cohesive visual presentation that embodies the brand, even down to the smallest detail. It educates visitors about the brand and the lifestyle it markets to, with a small amount of value-added content that augments the online experience. The one sorely lacking element is specific product information, which is essential in driving direct sales. This could easily be presented in pop-ups or fadeable sidebars without compromising the site's visual integrity. All in all, paulfrank.com is a strong vehicle that supports the brand's aspirational and relational qualities, especially that cheeky little monkey.