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Have “artisanal” brands and “craft” branding had their day?

“Old fashioned typefaces and nostalgic colour palettes” are ten a penny, but have we become wise to branding that promises “authenticity”? Alex Hamilton, strategic planner at brand design agency Bluemarlin looks at why brands are getting back to basics.

It’s a tricky time for brands, as savvy consumers are less convinced by the terms “artisanal” and “authentic,” compelling the craft branding era to change tactics or get out of the game altogether. According to Inc Magazine, in the past five years, over 800 food brands have used the words artisanal, authentic and hand-crafted to appeal to consumers and try to carve out their unique place in the market. But with so many brands wanting a slice of this ‘artisanal’ pie – have we lost our taste for authenticity?

A recent study by market research provider Mintel shows that more than half of Americans now think brands are using the terms “organic” and “artisanal” as an excuse to up a product’s price tag. As a consequence consumers have wised-up to the small-batched, authentically-crafted aesthetic.

It could be said that the generation born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, with their penchant for all things genuine and love of nostalgia, were partly responsible for the emergence of the artisanal brand and its going mainstream.  An article published in Mashable Magazine in 2015 refers to this generation as Yuccies (Young Urban Creatives), a term coined by writer David Infante, and explains that they were born during a time of increased social awareness with a loaded emphasis on corporate social responsibility. They wanted brands to advocate purpose – to be niche and set themselves apart from the larger, more corporate brands and with cash to splash, didn’t mind paying more for brands advocating authenticity. They would rather drink craft beer than mass produced lager, because they bought into the promise of a greater purpose.

At the same time, the recession hit, so while consumers tightened their belts when it came to investing in big and lavish purchases like cars or houses, they were willing to treat themselves to those small “everyday luxuries” such as artisanal cheese or craft beer. But these same generational cohorts, are now all grown up and their priorities have shifted. Now, with families to take care of they are less willing to waste money on a £12 chocolate bar in fancy packaging.

But it wasn’t just these generational groups that made authenticity a trend. Brands saw the artisanal craze as a way to showcase their conviction to truth, to illustrate their uncompromising attitude towards a superior product and to justify a higher price tag. As with any trend, it soon became so over-used that its popularity dwindled. When McDonald’s launches an artisanal burger and Starbucks starts offering small-batched cold brew coffee, you begin to question the true meaning of artisanal.

Consumers have cottoned on to the “craft” visual style, with its overly hewn packaging, featuring old fashioned typefaces and nostalgic colour palettes. And while they still crave honest brands and quality products, they don’t want the gratuitous fanfare or to pay a premium price.

All that said, there are still some terrific, hand-made, small-batch brands out there, like Benchmark, Workshop Coffee and Brew by Numbers. But for purposeful craft brands like these to continue to thrive in the wake of shifting consumer mind-sets, they will need to create alternative visual styles and reinvent their terminology.

Hunter for instance, a brand with a legacy for quality, has flipped its approach away from authenticity with a campaign film that features hyper-realistic people adventuring through a computer generated world. It boasts the opposite of precious attention to detail and craft, focusing instead on practical application and individuality.

The barefaced truth is that consumers are fed up of over-promising, desiring a more frank and honest conversation, although they do still want to connect with the brand emotionally. There’s no denying that brands need to knock themselves down to size and get back to basics in their aesthetic, with more functional and factual designs. It’s a balancing act, and only time will tell which brands swap the artisanal rhetoric for a quality product that simply does what it says on the tin.

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