Award show categories. Now there’s a topic to set the ranters ranting. More specifically, the proliferation of award show categories… Make the mistake of bringing that nugget up in conversation with the wrong person and you’d better grab a comfy chair, refresh your drink and get ready for a loud and lengthy stream of opinions from the Big Box of Opinions. The news this week that Cannes has added Digital Craft to its ever-growing pride of Lions is guaranteed to trigger a chorus of predictable roars. But hold your fire, y’all. I think it’s kind of neat.
Advertising craft is a bit of a nerdy obsession of mine. The alchemy of colour. The skin-tingling power of sound design. The architecture of the edit. The electron-level exactitude of type layout. A proper artisan (come on, we’re all hipsters here, we can misapply the word artisanal willy-nilly if we want to) can save a great idea from ham-fisted ugliness. It can make sure that it gets the attention that it deserves.
But until recently the concept of creative craft in advertising has been one of the graphic or filmic stuff. It’s sort of strange considering the diversity of work that falls under the banner of marketing and advertising these days. I’ve been noodling around with the topic for a while and something I’ve been regularly bringing up with interviewees over the past year or so – Ronald Ng at DigitalLBi, for example, Andy Sandoz at Havas Work Club is another, as is Jax Ostle Evans at Stinkdigital.
A film craft jury and a digital craft jury are always going to judge, say, an interactive film experience by different criteria. Intuitive navigation, an efficient and robust build, ingenious hacks that expand the possibilities of current technology are all key in determining whether a person will use – and continue using – a website, app or tool.
Plus there are companies that have underpinned the most awarded campaigns of the last few years – and have seen their (often pretty hefty) contribution to a project underplayed on the award circuit. The new category should go some way to righting that wrong.
I wonder if it might, even, go some way toward bridging the Mean Girls-esque social chasm between Cannes’ tech giant interlopers and the old guard? Maybe?
Sure, there will be challenges. How to find the jurors with the expertise to delve deep into entries within their own specialist field and the breadth of understanding to be able to evaluate the craft merits of everything from a digital shopping experience to a virtual reality film to a mobile game? And, as Andy Sandoz pointed out to me, the ‘always beta’ mentality of the digital arena can cause difficulty for the painstaking refinements of craftsmanship. But that’s no reason not to at least try.
So I’ll be following this new category with curiosity, Luddite though I am. It shows a more grown up approach to creative technology. Not everything hangs on the for-the-sake-of-it latest tech trend. Progress can be incremental rather than convulsive. As an industry, I sometimes wonder if the reason that we’re often so quick to over hype the novel or be dazzled by a faddish campaign is that we want to cover up our lack of hard tech skills and true understanding (or, I could just be speaking for myself). I have an inkling that this new category might be just the thing to get us to (collectively) slow down and think harder. It’s not dumbing down… it’s braining up.
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