Disregarding craft is costing us creatively
A view from Jules Chalkley

Disregarding craft is costing us creatively

Craft propels a good ad to greatness. For creative advertising to thrive, we can't let the skills of our trade be forgotten.

Why is it that creative teams don’t see the value of a gold award for craft? Recently, I witnessed a squabble between a creative team about whether a gold for a craft category should be on the shelf alongside the very same gold award for "best idea in 40 seconds". Up and down the gong went until, finally, they settled on leaving it off the shelf. They aren’t the only team to have had that debate. 

I learnt the value of craft the hard way. During a final-year review at art school with my tutor, my work got turfed across the room. It wasn’t because of the quality of the thinking – or the ideas – it was the fact that I hadn’t really delivered it in a way that showed I cared how people engaged with it. "If you don’t give a shit, why should anyone else?" was the brutal verdict from my tutor. I had just found out that we judge and consume ideas with the conviction with which they’re delivered; whether it’s to a tutor, a client or the big wide world.

There was a time when agencies were militant about their craft. Some towered above all others where craft was concerned, but where are those agencies now? Have they been defeated by time and money? I’ve been in meetings with Time and Money. Talk to them about craft and it’s like you’ve dropped the C-word – eyes roll, bottoms squirm on seats, they look awkwardly at their expensive, shiny shoes. But the great agencies somehow found a way of championing craft to overcome those challenges. They would never compromise when it came to executing their ideas. But, all too often now, creative agencies find themselves backed into a corner with a warped sense of time – that there is never enough time to do it properly, but always enough to do it again. Not much good can ever come from that.

In an era when ad agencies look more like a scene from Logan’s Run, how do we make sure that the skill and craft is passed on? My early years in agency life were a continuation of college. I was taught to art direct, write better and have better opinions by the creatives in the department. New recruits may not get that kind of education now that the most experienced in our agency teams are getting culled. Whereas ideas are, perhaps, more linked to the individual and their take on the world, craft, by definition, is something that can be taught to someone else. If they have the skills and knowledge, they can be as good as, if not better than, you. And that means each new generation or version of our industry can be better than the last. That’s something you can’t put a price tag on. But it also throws up the question of whether the colleges need to do much more to teach future talent about craft before they hit the industry.

This isn’t a wheezy blathering-on about a golden era. In all sectors of the creative industries, which are heavily tied to commerce, there’s something big going on – it has been for a while. Across the board, from film to fashion, and from product design to gaming, craft has been invested in, lifted to new levels and given space – they all understand that creativity also means making and that there is a big commercial advantage to it. It builds fan bases, creates uniqueness and delivers new audiences – and, in doing so, adds deeper value and creates a sweeter return on investment. So what’s with us?

Creatively, for the advertising and marketing industry, the world has never been more exciting; and, in our pursuit of new creative platforms and emergent tech opportunities, we have to make sure that our belief in, and passion for, craft comes along with us. Today’s audience has all the power, so our ideas have to be three-dimensional: they have to engage, persuade and invite people in – they, more than ever, need dwell time. Who wants to hang around an idea that hasn’t had love and care crafted into it?

If creativity is about having a different view of the world, then craft is how we bring that world to life: it sculpts the edges of it, it expresses and defines what we want something to be. Craft is as fundamental as the idea. The two should be standing shoulder to shoulder. Like both of those gold awards. 

I’ve never believed that advertising is art. But it is an art form. And now that Time and Money are calling the shots, we need to consider what we are leaving behind and how much it is really costing us.

Jules Chalkley is chief creative officer of BMB