advertising and identity

The scarcest commodity on the planet today is human attention. We don't have enough time to deal with the priorities we've established already in our own lives, much less the time to listen to every shill hawking the latest 10-10-1234 long distance program, or read up on those low introductory rate credit card offers delivered in the day's junk mail. How about the telemarketers who call just at dinner time? Did you catch the advertising stickers on your fruit at the local grocery store last year? What does "As seen on TV" mean, anyway? It's a billboard jungle out there: the last time I looked, we were subjected to more than 4,000 commercials of all types every single day!

Marshall McLuhan's observation that the medium is the message is at the root of advertising and identity. First "we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us" or "we become what we behold" have more relevance today with the Internet and MTV than these ideas ever did in the mid-1960's when he was writing about them. The linear approaches to our view of life enabled by the invention of moveable type in the mid-fifteenth century and the ordered, structured comfort of the printed page have given way to the free-for-all of cyberspace and the cacophony of multimedia inputs. McLuhan was concerned about television's effects on us. TV is only one -- and probably not the most important -- advertising vehicle today.

The purpose of advertising is simply to get your particular message out to the maximum number of people possible in a way that persuades them. For a politican the message is: "Elect me!" To a business it's "Buy me!" To the poor little snail darter it's "Save me!" It seems that everyone and everything on Earth has an agenda and the money to proselytize it. Is this a great country, or what? Advertising doesn't have to be pretty; it just has to work. It can shock you, it can confuse you, or it can disgust you. But if it's designed properly it gets right into that vestigial reptilian brain stem of yours and communicates directly with it -- viscerally. Probably not even on the same level -- we seldom remember advertising jingles; rather we react to them on the subconscious level.

The Nike swoosh, the NBC peacock, the Microsoft flag, Apple's apple, Mercedes' hood ornament -- these are all examples of powerful, specific brand recognition in the mind's eye. We don't have time for sound bites these days; we're down to bytes. The fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol promised us has been reduced to fifteen seconds. That is soon to be reduced to nanoseconds. Welcome to the 21st Century; it's going to get a lot worse very soon. Effective advertising today calls for dealing directly with that old reptile brain. We, ourselves, literally don't possess the time and attention required to process effectively any information which does not already interest us. Visuals are far more effective than a bunch of that moveable type. That Nike swoosh will never be mistaken for anything other than what it is: a dense statement of worth and purpose boiled down to a visual byte. We process images like this one in nanoseconds, and then move on.

At the height of the O.J. Simpson trial Santa Fe Stoneworks produced a print advertisement for the local market showing a model flashing a fancy dagger in front of her eyes with the tag line "You're dressed to kill." It was a huge success. We got death threats! Was it tasteless? You bet. Was it effective? Yes! It just grabbed hold of that reptile brain stem and shook it around. Probably everyone who saw the ad was at least mildly offended initially. However, people don't have time to remember what offended them or why -- they're always flushing short-term memory to make room for the endless new inputs coming their way in need of processing. But those bytes got through to that old reptile brain, so it all worked out for Stoneworks. Fortunately none of the death threats were carried out! There's another story about T & A advertising tactics and Boticelli's Venus, but we'll save that one for another day.

Okay, enough background on purpose and tactics. Let's talk about the craft industry per se. How do logos and images and branding apply to this very personalized industry, where the designer/maker is the linchpin? The tacitly accepted convention is that your name is your logo is your brand. That's all very well and good if you are a hot glass blower from Seattle and your name happens to be Chihuly. It's not Dale Chihuly; it's not Dale Chihuly Designs. It's just Chihuly. The guy OWNS the art glass category. The rest of the glass artists are merely bottom feeders. Chihuly has had thirty years to brand and market the heck out of his product, and has been instrumental in elevating the entire medium from a craft to a popular and lucrative art form. The eye patch is a nice touch, too, and supports the theater that advertising and promotion have become.

So you are not the glass guy from Seattle, but the convention still is that your name is your brand. That's fine, but after three days at the show seeing Joe Blow's Designs and Susie Creamcheese Designs and Mary Kaye's Contemporary Designs, your average buyer is going to go a little "design" happy. Which of these designers is the hot blown glass guy? Didn't I see some woodworker's "designs" the other day? What exactly does Designs de Santa Fe make? All right you brand name artists, as we enter the 21 st Century even the lowly crafts industry needs to be thinking about ways to grab hold of that reptilian brain stem. Perhaps in a nicer way than we are all exposed to constantly, but if you don't want to be a starving artist you need to figure ways to get the attention of your wholesale buyers and retail customers pronto. In that 1.5 second window you have to grab their attention, nothing does it better than an effective logo/brand/name.

What sounds better and can be made more visually pleasing: Linda Rasco's Designs or Harvest Gold Jewelry? Can't you just see that rich, golden harvest moon rising in the background? Sometimes a name can be turned into a logo: Mar, McVay, Kriska. But they can't stand-alone; they should be supported by some excellent graphics.

Santa Fe Stoneworks started out applying its lapidary process to a whole slew of products, from gearshift knobs to desk pen sets. The content was primarily gems and minerals. No problem. In the eyes of our customers "Stoneworks equals rocks." Then we started applying those rocks to the handles of knives and soon we were making knives exclusively. The rocks weren't the product anymore, the knife was. It just happened to be fancier than the ones offered by the good old boys down at the hardware store. So now we had a problem. "Stoneworks equals knives" just didn't compute. We incorporated a pocketknife into the logo name and produced a very powerful image within the craft industry: "Stoneworks plus knife equals rock-handled knives." No problem.



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