apple crush


Craft runs in the veins of adland - do brands need a blood transfusion?

As advertising agencies and production companies face a squeeze on budgets, and the specter of AI looms, what is the future expectation when it comes to the role of craft in creative work?

By conor nichols

Speed, effectiveness and value. No, that's not McDonald’s business plan but rather the three things marketers desire most in the 2020s - whether they derive personally or from pressure from the board room.

As a result, creative, media and production agencies are increasingly expected to do more for less and this often jeopardizes the quality of the work. Consumers are unlikely to engage with content that does not immediately pique their interest - that much we all know. Is that why the role of craft and quality within campaigns is so vital?

By its very nature, craft is almost the polar opposite of fast and cheap and it can make a difference. For example, Apple’s recent iPad Pro ad "Crush" may have gone down badly with those who saw a different message than the one it aimed to convey - but almost universally it seemed that critics agreed it was at least well made.

Recent campaigns speak for themselves. Stop-motion production has been adopted by the biggest brands in the world. Guerrilla advertising has made its way back into the marketing foray. Anime and other forms of animation are beginning to be favoured. And films that take hours of physical preparation and artistry are also returning - (Apple admittedly crushed all of it within seconds, but the effort was there).

Last year, LVMH-owned luxury watch brand TAG Heuer released this high-production, five-minute plus spot featuring Barbie and The Fall Guy's Ryan Gosling in an elongated car chase. Filmed and written to perfection, it could easily fit into a high-budget Hollywood production. It also exudes the quality that the company itself wishes to convey in its own carefully produced products. That's what paying attention to craft can convey.

Many senior creatives yearn for the iconic and industry-shaping Sony Bravia-type ads of old. The T-Mobile Liverpool Street Dancers. The emotional nature of these campaigns. The imperfection. The physicality. The delight. The real thing. The opposite of AI generated.

So, with AI-generated virtual production entering the industry, how does adland go about encouraging brands to invest back into craft and the high-quality production values that go along with it? And does a top-notch craft-led campaign necessarily need large devotions of time and huge budgets to be effective? We ask the industry’s biggest craft advocates.

Pablo González de la Peña, executive creative director, Accenture Song

Some uncool looking men surf with horses.

Some rubber balls bounce down a street.

A gorilla plays drums to a naff pop song.

Described this way, these ideas sound boring. Terrible even. Where's the twist? The ingenious ending? But in the right hands, they became some of advertising's most iconic works. As they say at BBH, "Advertising is 80 per cent idea, 80 per cent execution.”

I moved to London because great craft runs in the veins of this city. Here, more than anywhere else, we know that God is in the details.

Great creative people (not just creatives) understand that a bought idea is not the destination, it’s the starting line.

True success is found in the meticulous execution and countless decisions that follow.

Despite industry pressures for speed, true quality is a total commitment to detail. Of course a healthy budget makes things easier, but thanks to the incredible pool of new talent and all the new design tools, great craft is not as expensive or slow as it once was.

It’s still not easy though.

Great craft comes from a company-wide mindset. It’s nurtured through a culture where everyone knows that good ideas can become iconic with the right dedication, and space to grow.

We need to protect the perfectionists. They're on the verge of extinction.

Owen Lee, chief creative officer, FCB London

Most clients want great advertising, but the reality is, they have timelines and budgets to work to. The first step is to get to a shared understanding of the importance, and more significantly, the value, of craft.

The biggest crime in advertising is to produce work that’s invisible and goes unnoticed. Then you’re wasting your entire media investment which runs the risk of completely overshadowing your production budget. People have pointed out that ideas like Apple’s 'Crush' have been done before, but ironically, because it’s crafted so beautifully, it has elicited some powerful emotions – to the point where everyone is talking about it.

There’s no question that craft is a game-changer. Our latest Andrex work could easily have missed the mark had it not been directed by Andreas Nilsson. The quality of his directing, sense of style, visual aesthetic, brave casting, and overall vision made the spots so compelling.

Love them or hate them, they stand out, and that’s in no small part due to the level of craft. In this case our clients were brave enough to trust us and trust the production process. Once they had bought into Andreas as a director, they knew they needed to let him do his thing.

And perhaps that’s the most important thing in the advertising process – get to a unified vision for what you want the advertising to achieve and then trust the experts to do their job.

Yan Elliott, chief creative officer, Weber Shandwick

We are faced with a vast difference in production budgets across different clients.

The key is to deliver your idea with the best craft levels you can afford. In truth, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to get the craft levels right.

One recent example is the work we did for AB InBev – ‘Budweiser: The Refrigerator Frame’. The campaign showcased this by introducing a unique solution: the world’s first refrigerated fridge frame designed to display and chill Sir Peter Blake’s masterpiece beer can design. It needed to work as a fridge. This was crucial – we had to make an authentic fridge that worked and chilled the can to 5 degrees.

Thankfully, Budweiser passionately believed this too.

Frances Draskau – group creative director, T&Pm

What is the secret to encouraging clients to invest in craft and high-quality production values? Does a great craft-led campaign need a big budget to be effective? Though some brands have enormous budgets, you don't necessarily need to have the same to produce craft-led campaigns.

First off: assume your clients want to make beautifully crafted work - because they do. 

Then figure out what their version of that looks like and, if needed, provide examples that help to inform and elevate that vision.

As an industry, we don’t need to show other ads as craft-led examples either. Our inspiration and references come from the tapestry of our lives; from overheard conversations on the bus, brick wall art galleries, 80’s music videos, found photography, shoestring travel, old cartoons, reality TV - you name it, we’ll magpie it - then reference it at exactly the right time and place.

In the case of 'Rise To It', we were tooled up all the way through. From cinematographer, Lukasz Zal, to Marsheen's editor, Rob Daglish and Factory sound designer, Jon Clarke, each harmoniously adding their talent and then baton passing to the next expert.

When you’re in it together with your clients, you all share in the delight of symphony-building craft-led work and embrace the surprises that come out of the process. Rather than questioning why something doesn’t look exactly as it did on the AI storyboard or whatever, everyone’s thrilled when it looks new and wondrous instead. Long live respecting the craft, together.

Alexander Nowak, CCO and creative partner of Mother Berlin

To intensively craft a piece of work requires a lot of focus and a high attention to detail. Every little thing, no matter how minor it might seem, is valuable and can make all the difference. You see, life is not that easy - it’s quite complex and if you want to touch the audience with meaning your work has to reflect exactly that. 

And craft-led work is not necessarily connected to big budgets. That’s a myth in my opinion. You rather should respect the setup including potential budget limitations and create a somewhat perfect concept for the circumstances. Great talent and the right mindset will allow you the hit that sweet spot. This said, a healthy budget is very welcome and buys you time which is necessary to craft the work to perfection - saying that I guess we can all agree that perfection doesn’t exist. 


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