Trend alert: brands get crafty

An anthropological guide for brands getting into handcrafted messaging.

This story appears in the November 2014 issue of strategy.

Who knew arts and crafts could be such a big deal?

What was once the domain of small alcohol brands and niche fashion lines, the concept of craft and handcrafted has gone mainstream with brands in the QSR, pharma and fashion categories jumping on board.

It’s easy to thank Etsy and Pinterest for the rise in DIY culture (the maker movement, for example, has been hugely influenced by these platforms), but for brands, selling the handcrafted nature of their business stems from a deeper cultural push.

Recently, KFC unveiled a new logo and slogan “World Famous Taste Made the Hard Way” to appear in stores and on ads, meant to highlight the brand’s commitment to fresh, real foods made by trained cooks every morning, says David Vivenes, CMO at KFC Canada. “People care a lot more than ever about the food being real food, made by real people – rather than coming from somewhere that they don’t understand.”

The seal, of sorts, is designed to showcase the brand’s new cook certification program, which highlights the rigorous training the brand’s staff goes through and the from-scratch food prep process.

Pfizer also jumped on the bandwagon with a new campaign highlighting craftspeople in other industries, such as fashion and bicycle making (pictured). Working with Montreal-based agency Tank, the campaign is for the Celebrex line, and is designed to highlight the hard work that went into creating the pain pill, which is nearing the end of its patent cycle. “Pfizer is a big company, and they know their stuff – exactly like any other craftsperson,” says Alexandre Gadoua, ECD at Tank. “We tried to use humour at first, but we just went back to the basics of what the [brand] means – that is where all that blood, sweat and tears are contained.”

Roots too has a new OOH and digital campaign profiling the craftsmen at its Toronto leather factory, which also includes video profiles of the factory workers.

Johanna Faigelman, president and founder of applied anthropology consultancy Human Branding, says craft culture is a perfect counterbalance for millennials to an over-digitized existence.

“The notion of DIY/maker/craft holds special resonance for millennials who are the generation most ill-equipped to make anything tangible, practical and real,” she says. “Most millennials had two working parents who were often too busy to teach them hands-on skills like sewing, cooking, carpentry, car maintenance, etc. In response, millennials have begun romanticizing the idea of creating items with their own hands, often aided by what can be learned online and through social media.”

Add to this the recent economic instability, which fosters an unconscious desire to create things for oneself (to help create a better sense of security), and the notion that the internet can help anyone to become an “expert,” and it’s no wonder the crafting movement has taken shape, she adds. What’s more, the bigger companies are finally starting to take notice of those smaller upstart craft brands (such as microbreweries, or brands like Herschel, which has become an overnight sensation for its handcrafted backpacks), and following suit.

“We know how many brands have risen to great heights and been culturally celebrated for being niche (i.e. not mass, often local and handcrafted),” Faigelman says. “By virtue of being niche, they are seen as being closer to ‘us,’ the little guy versus mass brands, which are being created by and for ‘them,’ the ‘big guys.’”

Perhaps, then, if these brands can embrace this same handcrafted messaging, they too can ditch the “big corporation” label to better connect with their millennial consumer.

With files from Josh Kolm