Craftsmanship > Commodity

Is craftsmanship undervalued in advertising? (Is this really another “____ is dead!” article? Nah, son.)

There has always been debate in the marketing and advertising worlds over the “art” or “craftsmanship” involved in our work. There seems to be an understanding that the field has matured and has become self-aware - we’re past the idea that agencies full of graphic designers, videographers and copywriters create things just to be beautiful. We can all agree that, although there are exceptions (looking at you Cannes), the majority of creators in this industry are paid to be commercial artists. We are hired to reach people strategically and efficiently, then inspire them with entertaining, thoughtful, emotional content. It’s a business, after all.

Most of us feel comfortable admitting this. We may have hobbies that provide us an outlet for raw creativity that keep this truth nugget at arm’s length from our “expressive” identities - writing fiction, painting, film photography.      

Over time, however, with the advancement of technology and abundance of accessible, affordable marketing tools, we’re running into a problem that threatens our worth. A growing sector of our industry has created a monster: commoditization of marketing tools.

Social media platforms have (after years of slow, steady indoctrination) established themselves as somewhat credible “pay to play” media, and are still incredibly efficient (for now). Sites like Canva and Pixlr give anyone with an internet connection the ability to create templated graphics. Unsplash provides a gallery of free, high quality stock photography.

The abundance of tools - some of which are insanely helpful - has created an “anyone can market themselves” revolution for companies, organizations and individuals. This isn’t a terrible thing, by any means. There’s no doubt that having something cheaper and more accessible to all has its benefits for those who otherwise could not promote their ideas or products.

However, the marketer or business owner who benefits from these resources now has a mindset that all marketing should be cheap, or even free. Marketing has been segmented into two categories: cheap, accessible tools and valuable, strategic expertise. But many people have forgotten that these two types of marketing do not sit next to each other on the shelf. They are not equal in value, but are being lumped into the same category.

“Marketing has been segmented into two categories: cheap, accessible tools and valuable, strategic expertise.”

In order to be effective in advertising and marketing, one must take the time to study their target, craft a unique strategy, develop a plan of action, carve out a realistic budget, speak their consumers’ language, weave a narrative, design with purpose, deliver relevance consistently, optimize regularly, invent new solutions, measure, revise, repeat. If one cannot do these things themselves, then it’s time to consider hiring a professional firm or consultant with the experience, expertise, time and resources to get results.

The large Agencies of Record might have pivoted into smaller segments as a business model, but that doesn’t mean high-quality advertising should be commoditized, chopped up into little pieces and cost pennies to create. Be scrappy in your tactics and smart with your dollars, sure. But if you find yourself coming up short, it may be time to pause and reflect on your current efforts as they relate to your overarching goal.

If you’re attempting to reach a specific destination, which is more important: traveling quickly or traveling in the right direction?

Toucan is a New Orleans-based advertising agency.

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