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When better, faster, cheaper isn’t enough: the return of craft


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I love the movies, always have. Summer is the penultimate time for movies with blockbusters filing in week after week. With roughly 600 movies being released each year in the United States, we’re bound to notice some themes weaving their way through the stories we watch on screen. One recurring theme in particular has not only been prevalent in the cinema, but has begun to spread beyond the screen:

The Return.

Apple PhoneI’m sure you recognize the scenario: our hero is righteous but flawed, justified but uncertain. He makes a valiant attempt to reach his goal only to fall short. He is down for the count, evil has apparently won. But wait. Although hope is seemingly lost, our hero bursts on to the scene in a triumphant return to save the day, vanquish the evil and rightfully claim what seemed unattainable.

Just two months into this summer’s movie schedule and we’ve already seen this theme play out in varying plots: Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Fast & The Furious 6,Epic and Man of Steel all feature The Return in one way or another. In each, the hero had to endure some level of interpersonal growth to overcome the adversary. In short, they had to return to their roots, that simple place where truth was absolute and character was pure.

The idea of The Return has even begun to spread to marketing brands. As is the case with everything in life, marketing is cyclical. Media has driven many of the marketing trends over the years, but brands have also played a role in the propagation of trend. Consumers want fast, so we’ll give them fast. They want cheap, so we’ll give them cheap. They want quality, so we’ll give them quality. As marketing has shifted on the heels of each burgeoning medium and brands have adjusted production schedules, distribution models and portfolio offerings, there has always been an impending “Return.” But-a return to what?

Craft.

Take Apple, for example. Since the passing of Steve Jobs, the once indestructible brand has taken its share of body blows. Many say Apple have lost its way, as if its soul was transcendentally attached to that charismatic leader. Their pendulum had swung from being about the product experience to being about the product itself. Consumers want specs, so we’ll give them specs, they said. But that’s not what made Apple, well, Apple. Just when it looks like Apple is finally down, here comes The Return: Designed by Apple.

Apple’s “Return” is to craft, that emotional connection between who they are as makers and the objects of their making. Whether it was a strategic decision or the result of natural fluctuations in the market, Apple meandered away from their heritage. They were always the outlaws, the renegades, the mad scientists hell bent on making devices that used technology to enhance and amplify lifestyle. They seemingly own craft and we, as consumers, can’t get enough of it. Craft matters.

Craft is the quality of quality, it is the care taken to create something of value from materials of value for people of value. Craft takes time; it can’t be automated or artificially manufactured. It requires an almost irresponsible devotion to do what’s right even when what’s right isn’t necessary or expected. Craft is choosing imported coffee beans from the mountains of West Panama (La Esmeralda Coffee). Craft is using vintage carpenter nails on hand-weathered wood flooring (Richard Marshall Flooring). Craft is hand-mixed ice cream shakes (Sonic Drive-In) and locally sourced produce (Sweetgreen Restaurants). Craft implies care, a quality that brands are returning to in droves.

“Food with Integrity” is Chipotle’s sourcing mantra. They define it as finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers. To help tell the story of their resolve to support sustainable farming practices, they commissioned a pseudo-PSA spot called “Back to the Start,” pulling in Willie Nelson’s iconic voice to cover Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and lending the lyric to the name of the spot.

It is an example of how craft is making its return, both in content and in practice. Brands that feature craft as a characteristic are seeing the benefit of employing craft in their marketing.

Last year, the Oreo cookie celebrated its 100th birthday. It’s hard to believe, I know. A century is a long time for a brand to not only endure, but thrive. Oreo is as strong a brand now as they have ever been. How have they managed to stay relevant through decades of competition, two world wars, global financial meltdowns, multiple corporate transitions and fluctuating consumer sentiment? You guessed it: craft.

An Oreo cookie is widely considered a simple pleasure; white crème icing sandwiched between two small chocolate cookies. They’ve wisely developed an unofficial but mutually beneficial partnership with milk, furthering the cookie’s modest, wholesome persona. In short, they have positioned themselves as a crafted indulgence, one most associate with simplicity and playfulness.

To celebrate their 100th birthday, and in turn celebrate 100 years of simplicity and playfulness, Oreo’s digital marketing agency, 360i, moved to craft “a pop culture experience through the eyes of Oreo.” The result, the Daily Twist, featured an ambitious exercise to develop 100 different social pieces of pop culture “twists” that could be shared by fans of the cookie, ending in a live Times Square temporary agency pop-up-shop to develop the 100th Daily Twist from live suggestions.

In a cyclical market that is pressing us to generate content faster, launch product updates quicker and ship sooner, consumers are returning to the desire for craft. Mass brands are positioning themselves to be perceived more like specialty brands, because mass brands know that specialty is defined by the characteristic of craft. Specialty brands are different; they can be more expensive, harder to find, manufactured uniquely or appeal to a niche audience. And this is exactly The Return that consumers are rewarding with their business, their evangelism and their advocacy.

 

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