Just recently, I inadvertently instigated a social media debate on craft versus effectiveness – an insurance company resorting to inelegant and repetitive copy to emphasise customer-centricity. The aesthetically-sensitive resonated with my critique while certain pragmatists considered the communication to be effective and emphatic, finesse frankly unnecessary. After all, it can be argued that if the policies are selling then that must be the end objective, yet truthfully this is a dangerous argument. In any category that thrives on craft, advertising included, a disdain for intrinsic quality is detrimental to its furtherance, leading to eventual decline.
The universe is filled with categories where craft is the primary calling card – from automobiles to chocolates to fashion to cinema. Where historical affiliation is driven by a superlative experience, defined by certain special skills of the creator, difficult to replicate by even the most earnest competition. This sets the momentum for a category or a genre, other worthies carving their own spaces to expand the market, eventually securing a scalable consumer appetite that transcends demographics and eventually, geographies. Where this merry equilibrium falters, is the dynamics of the price-value equation, an inevitability in most categories, where the temptation to provide optimal solutions for higher toplines overrides craft considerations, hitherto considered basic but suddenly deemed indulgent. In the world of creativity, like the advertising example, the equivalent is the allocation of a lower calibre of resources while in either case, the customer endorsement of diminished standards is a deceptive signal, often transforming to long-term disenchantment.
Let me illustrate this occurrence through an example of the advertising industry first and then, certain product and service brands. Due to various pressures, agencies are usually forced to constantly cut retainer fees, through the alibi of a resource-based structuring. Clients, through their procurement teams, negotiate relentlessly to right-size the remunerations of the key resources, vouching gallantly to accept the cuts in their stride. Agencies, most inevitably, must cut down their staff calibre and thus, resort to sub-optimal quality of output. As an added hazard, due to the changing business dynamics, the marketing teams start dictating creative content, accepted by the creative outfits, due to lower bargaining powers as well as sheer operational convenience. Over time, however, a vicious cycle starts operating and the self-same folks who directly influenced the retrenched quality, through under-cutting and compulsion, damns the agency for poor creativity and summarily summons a pitch. The demise of craft at the deemed crucible of effectiveness, leading to a debacle across frontiers.
This pattern is true across industries and I will try to share certain illustrations. Legacy apparel brands like M&S, Benetton and Zara have consciously cut down on the quality of their materials due to seasonal styling — clothes cost less, last even lesser and customers are cool because they do not wish to repeat. However, the quality under-cutting, a diminishing of craft, is affecting their brand image as the same customers are seeking cheaper options to fulfil their style appetite. Airlines face this situation with loyalty privileges, driven seemingly by customer value expectations, but eventually becoming a source of disenchantment. Many restaurants compromise on intrinsic craft for Swiggy home delivery, the classic case of Domino’s Pizza losing out on quality perceptions due to quick turnaround. Luxury real estate, residences or hotels, must embrace assembly-line approaches for scalability which does lead to unfavourable comparisons with past peers. In the mobile phone business, the accent is entirely on effectiveness, which meant that a sculptured product like Vertu did not manage to gain currency.
When extended to the entertainment space, the Craft versus Effectiveness continues to make sense and evolve its own equilibrium. Short-format audio-visual content is currently popular courtesy consumer appetites, the same being true for classical music pieces. Over time, we will certainly hear the naysayer brigade complain about its genuineness, certain careers will thrive while others will diminish. Kindle is wildly popular as a consumption format yet discounting the brick-and-mortar book (embodiment of craft) may be wildly detrimental to literature at large. Mobile phones are rapidly replacing the DSLR camera as the primary mode of memory-making aided by constantly aspiring for the output of the latter. In cricket, the IPL is a consumer-dictated format but often considered responsible for the systematic degradation of craftsmanship in the game, in techniques of batting and bowling.
In sum, any form of effectiveness that is cultivated at the expense of craft, will not be sustainable in the long run. While contemporary value propositions are seemingly attractive, they can be dangerously fleeting, unlike the fundamental contract of engagement between any discerning category and customer. Which is invariably built on the quality of experience, contemporary yet timeless, dependant largely on the evolving integrity of the applicable craft.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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