When I started out in advertising in the early 90s, there were still a few old schoolers left at my very old school shop, Leo Burnett. These were the three-martini-lunch guys, but there was a lot to learn from them - some of it about marketing. These guys (and make no mistake, they were all guys) came from an era and culture that is pretty easy to criticize, but one thing I saw that I liked a great deal was a dedication to what they considered a craft. In their world, their status was dependent on the respect their peers gave them due to their demonstrated expertise at crafting campaigns that were effective.
They were dinosaurs.
The creatives we hired under them wore turtlenecks and tweeds, and chukka bags printed in Aztec or Tibetan patterns. They frequented dance clubs, and their status came not from specific campaigns they created, but from the fact that they were a "creative." Talk to them at a wine party, and they would be slightly embarrassed if you went too deeply into a particular campaign they were doing, as they'd rather talk about the office or, better still, their screenplay. To be a journeyman craftsman is a bit beneath the status many of today's creatives believe they merit.
Perhaps this is in part due to the centralization - and the resulting urbanization - of the advertising business. That city culture rubbed off hard, covering the marketing business with a slough of habits, goals and identities that have over time moved the business away from a craft trade. when advertising was more local, it was more tied to people, transactions and the ad clients who found themselves between the two.
I see this culture of craft when I visit rural places. I'm not talking about crocheted wall art for tourists, but rather a professional sense of identity, where status is elevated to the quality of the work done. This happens best when a craftsman has a relationship with a client. It happens less when middlemen come in between, the equivalent of client service account executives, brand managers. And, of course, scale hurts.
This desire for the craft ethic in marketing is tough to fit into the evolutionary trends pushing us along in the field. The movement to more interactive marketing, more direct marketing, more accountable, trackable and iterative marketing leads to a greater scale and velocity of creative production needs. At the same time, it allows for greater individualization, targeting and other elements that bring us closer to the goal of crafting something perfect for the need. I don't have the conceit to think I have a good bead on how close or far these trends will bring us back to the craft.
It's the market demand of the advertisers themselves that will ultimately decide whether or not elements of craft again become required to serve brands, and frankly, most advertisers don't have a good track record of insisting on requirements that suit their own best interests.
Which opens up the possibility that, as with the internet itself, opportunities will arise where the smaller and more agile and crafty firms - be they agencies or advertisers - may find in the market voids of opportunity.
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