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The Influencers

Let’s Give Craft the Respect It Deserves

INFLUENCER: ELVIS' Chris Dorn argues the case for allowing the time and head-space for great design

Let’s Give Craft the Respect It Deserves

Like most people with the job title design director, I have a passion for craft. But it’s not that simple. I crave it, it’s in my blood and I live and breathe it at work, and at home. This passion drives me to search for the unique, the relevant and the beautiful in everything I work on.

But, there’s a problem. Our industry is changing at lightning speed. The hunt for the unicorn that is ‘good, fast and cheap’ is playing havoc with the modern advertising landscape. Agencies are scrambling to keep up, and the time and space needed to produce beautifully crafted work is becoming a luxury.

Many clients are becoming more and more demanding, whilst asking agencies to deliver faster and for less than ever before. Brands are becoming more vocal about their desire to bring things in-house and to have more autonomy, ever-more confident that they’re tapped into their consumers, like Neo into the Matrix. 

Whilst we are subject to industry-wide scrutiny, it seems we are riding the tsunami of producing work that’s relevant, that cuts through the noise and that speaks to people in a market more saturated with content and messaging than ever before. Meanwhile, timings are getting tighter, budgets are getting squeezed and the deliverables lists are as long as the list of client stakeholders involved in the brief.

So what are the consequences? The short-term answer is that we have to be more agile and more reactive.

For the largest global agencies, let the mergers begin. In a bid to streamline process and continue to take a bigger chunk of the cake, many shops are being combined. WPP’s latest creation of VMLY&R merges a modern digital powerhouse with nearly a century of creative excellence, and is yet another recent example of holding companies making proactive moves to future-proof their share of the sector whilst meeting client demands.

Meanwhile, clients are taking things into their own hands. Ford has created more than 100 in-house marketing positions – a bold move which they called ‘a new global marketing approach’. You can see the appeal to brands, with Ford reporting it will save them an insane $150 million in annual efficiencies.

Are we reaching a point where in-house ideas, a production company and some well-purchased media can result in work which is relevant and strikes a chord with consumers? Possibly, but will they ever be as beautiful and well-crafted as ads like Honda’s Cog by W+K. Or will we see an increase in brands falling into traps like Pepsi did with their in-house produced Kendall Jenner ad? And how is this trend affecting agencies on a day-to-day basis? 

Many agency people I know, from strategy and planning to creative and design, are feeling the pinch. In particular, growing pressure from clients is taking its toll on craft, especially in design. 

The pressure hasn’t come out of nowhere, and it starts a long way upstream. If we believe the figures, consumers now get exposed to approximately 5,000 ads a day. To make it big as a brand, you need to be noticed, be the most relevant, and appeal to your target audience. But now you need to produce four campaigns, each with multiple media bites of mind-blowing content, in the same timeframe as you previously produced two.  

The agency needs to adapt, to look at new processes, to trial new agile ways of working and to look for new opportunities to create work that is intelligent in its execution and makes smart use of time and reach. Whilst this happens though, we must not lose sight of craft throughout our campaign process, regardless of the timeframes we’re working to. 

Last year, Unilever’s Dove fell foul of a lack of consumer research (as well as basic common sense) when they ran a racially insensitive ad. A focus on craft at the campaign strategy stage could have easily avoided this PR nightmare. 

Craft should not be a step-by-step activity carried out by individuals at any given stage. Craft should be a core part of a collaborative process, involving all key stakeholders (including clients). Each person should bring their unique skills to the table - inspiring, innovating and challenging. This results in assurance and confidence in relevant creative that really connects with people, as I’ve seen time and again in our work for clients. 

Craft is research, craft is strategy, craft is getting lost in your thoughts so that you can find that perfect one. Craft is exploration, craft is a process of elimination, craft is selection, craft is refinement and craft is those finishing touches that make the difference between being forgotten and being immortalised. 

Craft doesn’t take time for time’s sake, craft can ensure you don’t miss the mark, that there is no need for an apology, no need to retract the campaign, no need for lawyers, no need to sack your agency and no need to reforecast your end-of-year results.

Craft doesn’t mean that work has to be complicated. Well-crafted work is beautifully simple, not obvious or plain. 

Craft takes time. But I believe it’s worth it. 

Chris Dorn is design director, ELVIS

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