Guest article

Craft may have come of age, but the risk of becoming clichéd remains strong

There is plenty of mileage in craft left, says Walmsley - if usage is kept fresh

Craft has become ever more visible in both brand DNA and marketing. And while craft doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon - has its success reduced its potency, asks Chris Walmsley, co-founder of creative agency Cubo.

The appeal of craft is clear – it taps into consumers’ desire for individuality and authenticity. Given craft’s popularity, there is a particularly strong commercial appetite to connect with it, but brands must tread carefully.

Consumers can spot the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ from a mile away (if they’re not really hand stitched by a true artisan), and even where claims are credible, does craft’s omnipresence now reduce its potency for brands?

Craft codes

The current momentum of craft in popular culture suggests there is plenty of mileage left, as long as over mining does not reduce credibility and creative usage is kept fresh. 

The drinks industry is clearly a frontrunner in harnessing the power of craft – successfully using its values for both product development and brand positioning. Flavour is often the primary common denominator in the craft drinks industry, as seen in both a pint of Camden Pale Ale and the ‘Find Flavour’ advertising for Fuller’s Frontier [UK craft lager].

However, this is not the end of the story. In fact there are a number of established craft codes (themes and values) operating in a cultural context, which have been used successfully by brands over the years. At Cubo we recently commissioned a semiotics study that has identified a range of existing dominant craft codes, including localism, passion & obsession, rebels, English eccentrics, and magic & fairytale - all very familiar when you start to think about it.

Over familiar in fact. When you look a bit closer at ‘mainstream’ beers like Foster’s and Beck’s, you can see that they both incorporate a number of the dominant craft codes. With its humorous Australian advertising campaign, Foster’s features clear links to heritage and localism, whilst branding from Beck’s features limited edition artwork labels.

However, many big beer and cider brands are failing to connect with this cultural phenomenon, missing out on both this rich set of cultural values and commercial potential. Naturally the independent craft breweries draw heavily on the craft codes. BrewDog’s hunt for a brand activation agency is also illustrative of their desire to remain dominant in the increasingly complex world of craft beer, looking to evolve the rebel stance which sits at the very heart of the brand.

As these codes get saturated into the mainstream, there is a danger that they can start to feel a little clichéd. 

Emerging codes

Of greater interest are the emerging codes we identified; as these have the potential to weave craft into branding in a relevant and fresh way.

These codes are important both to the mainstream breweries who can’t claim to be tiny back-room artisans, but may want to ‘walk the walk’ of craft, and smaller craft breweries that are either looking to build their brands or refresh existing brand values, while not losing their craft heritage. With a broad range of emerging codes, from experimentation and techno artisan to art and industrial scale, they provide fantastic potential for drinks brands to leverage craft for many years to come. 

'A broad range of emerging codes provides fantastic potential for brands to leverage craft for many years to come'

As further codes emerge and the idea of craft changes shape, brands need to be at the forefront of what it truly means, and make sure that their identity never becomes worn. 

Chris Walmsley is the co-founder of Cubo group, an independent creative agency based in London. His client experience includes Chivas Regal, Pernod Ricard Global, G.H.Mumm, Cadbury, WH Smith and Co-Operative Bank. 

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