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Opinion: Craft Will Eat Itself

Opinion: Craft Will Eat Itself

'Tis the season for Brand & Packaging Foie Gras, and over the Christmas break I got a chance to sit down in my rocking chair and contemplate the year gone. As well as drinking some mighty fine spirits by the fire in my knitwear, I also got to admire some great (and some not so great) branded packaging.

By Jon Clark, Global Creative Director, Boldinc Brand Innovation

So like the Grinch of branding, I’m weighing in with the C-word of design, the pastiche that is craft. Surely the end is nigh.

Many category rules and semiotics that have been developed over the years are being thrown away in pursuit of individuality or quirk. Take craft beer for instance. It all looks that different it looks the same. There has never been so much consumer choice, yet I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen so much similarity in design.

I used to love going past the bourbons on my way to the whisky shelf and buying something that was unapologetically whisky through and through. Of course, they all had uniqueness, but it was cleverly balanced alongside well-understood category cues.

The true character and point of difference of brands and their products are getting lost through a myriad of scripts, scrolls, and ornaments. Seriously, it’s not characterful or unique, just a crowded collection of ephemera and clip art, shamelessly redrawn and neatly constructed. I’m dizzy from the ligatures and hand written type.

To add to this, it seems there is a real lack of investment or need for bespoke structural design to standout on shelf. Australian liquor tax, perhaps? Margins no doubt, but surely there needs to be a solution to this cookie cutter approach. Design is a powerful business tool, and structure is an area that is often seen as an unnecessary COGS expense rather than an investment into brand equity. Think of the shapes of the most iconic alcohol brands...

Yes, many of these new emerging brands are really crafted, well made, use good ingredients, but that’s just cost-of-entry today. Where’s your point of difference, what’s your true personality, your story? A case of style over substance. My old advertising teacher used to say: “If you throw five tennis balls at me, the chances of me catching any is remote. Throw me one or two and I will get it”. There is nothing wrong with a simple, no-nonsense, well-made brand (big or small). It’s actually quite refreshing in today’s landscape.

Call me a grumpy old designer if you want – hey, some of the time you’d be right – but I’m making this point for the good of brands everywhere. Those of us in marketing and design need to take heed that this trend is exactly that, and potentially detrimental to the brands’ future.

So understand the importance of personality, soul, and dependability before just riding the craft wave through this semiotic whitewash to get your share of what’s hot right now.

The fact that a product was made with “artisan” quality (don’t get me started on that one), doesn’t actually make the brand, nor should it mean they have to force this craft phenomena down our (consumers) throat...

Admittedly, ‘the consumer’ seems to be buying this trend (literally), but for how long? That’s for a good consultant to recommend. At Boldinc, one of our principles is to be ‘consumers before designers’ and over the years, that has stood us in good stead. And so we are feeling a change…

Consumers are drowning in creativity, snacking on trends and culture (Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook) but starved of uniqueness and substance. It’s an agency’s job to connect consumers and brands on a level deeper than craft for craft’s sake.

Every man and his dog are building a microbrewery (48 in 2016), designing a still, opening a cellar door, and that’s great for the industry, but really consider why you should standout, tall and proud. Competition it seems, breeds similarities, not differences, and following the herd will get you, well... in with the herd, which, by definition will be a busy segment where you’ll never be first.

It won’t be as dramatic as a marketing ‘Black Wednesday' and craft fatigue won’t happen overnight, but we’re close to critical mass. So before you and your brand try and jump on board this overcrowded bandwagon, keep in mind that the ride could be a short one...

It’s the agency’s job to look at where the market’s going, not just where it’s been. Brands come to us for advice, not just pretty pictures. As designers and consultants, we need to consider the implications of ‘crafting up’ these big brands, which have meaningful roots. Their simplicity of style has been built over many years, so before you set about wallpapering over your uniqueness, understand what’s worth building upon, and don’t get distracted by style, as that was hopefully never the reason for being.

It’s a real balancing act but, thankfully, some of us actually do that for a living.

I’m no brand prophet, and I’m hoping that this trend works itself out before brands and products well and truly eat themselves. Long live the refreshing, purposeful, clear brands - big and small - and remember success is measured on sales, not likes or awards.

‘Craft will eat itself’ is a parody of the famous quote ‘Pop will eat itself ‘ by Quentin Crisp on the demise of pop music.

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