Both Waitrose’s latest ad and Carling’s 2019 campaign have a key ingredient in common and no, it’s not grain: it’s craft. While the term ‘craft’ is most often applied to independent micro-breweries, craft has taken on a new significance to big brands across multiple categories. Spurred on by rising consumer concern over provenance and ethics, big brands are adapting lessons from the craft beer revolution to breathe new life into faltering mainstream products.

The hallmarks of a craft brand, as pioneered by BrewDog and their kin, is a quality product, a clear brand identity and a strong brand purpose. It’s not hard to see why these behaviours are being adapted by big brands with high levels of success. In 2018, Carling launched a craft rebrand that increased their sales by 8.7% while the likes of Fosters and Carlsberg fell. Bringing back its original black label and Burton-on-Trent emblem built a clear identity based on Carling’s history and quality ingredients. Carling cemented their new craft identity with the ‘Made Local’ advertising campaign, championing other makers who help their local communities to thrive. By mimicking the behaviours of its smaller challengers, Carling recreated a brand that better resonated with modern beer drinkers looking for authentic products.

Similarly, in the face of declining pre-packaged bread sales, bread brand Allinson’s  revamped their breads to emulate hand-crafted artisanal loaves sold in independent bakeries. With paper wrappers, a simplified design and cheeky names like ‘Scandalous Seeds,’ they look like bread’s answer to craft beer. Like Carling, Allinson’s also saw success in numbers with a year-on-year sales uplift of 73%. It could be said that Waitrose has applied this strategy to their most recent campaign, conveying a sense of crafted quality and authenticity by focusing on the bakers and farmers who produce their goods rather than on their chain of supermarkets.

The mass appeal of craft can be put down to science. Craft appeals to us on a system 1 level (the part of our brain that makes instant decisions based on instincts). Our brains quickly interpret crafted designs as expensive, higher quality and even luxurious. Craft also appeals to us on a deeper level, to our innate saviour complex. Craft products position themselves as the little guy, the one battling the monotony of mass production to bring people authentically made products with a personal history and social purpose. Whether or not they actually are ‘the little guy,’ brands can benefit from thinking like they are; If brands can show consumers that they care about their craft, then both brand and consumers will be better off.

‘Carling’, Warc (2019) [https://www.warc.com/content/article/dba/carling/126505].

‘Allinson’s’, Warc (2019) [https://www.warc.com/content/article/dba/allinsons/126506].

‘How to create a successful craft brand’, Warc (2017) [https://www.warc.com/content/article/admap/how-to-create-a-successful-craft-brand/110764].

Ibid.

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