Artisanal Advertising

To forge emotional connections with consumers, tech brands go for handcrafted effects

Photos: Karl J. Kaul


In a nondescript laboratory, a stodgy scientist in a white coat fills a beaker with orange liquid. At the same time, a second beaker sitting untouched on a lab table fills up with an identical liquid—as if by magic.

This alchemical ad for Google Play’s instant data syncing must be computer-generated trickery, right? Wrong. It is a decidedly old-world illusion using a mechanical prop. Hidden under the table, engineer Eric Gradman pumps a three-plunger contraption that fills and then empties the second beaker through a tube.

While Google Play itself is effectively effortless (or so the brand maintains), constructing the custom countertop and coordinating the stunt in this ad most definitely was not. “That was 100 percent in camera,” says Jonathan Zames, writer and director of the spot. “That would have actually been easier to computer generate.”

Then why bother? “When you do it by hand, people sense all the little imperfections,” Zames explains. “It’s more surprising because they can see that real effort went into it.”

Call it artisanal advertising for the digital age. Even as pixel-driven effects get better at simulating reality, top creatives are returning to handmade techniques to pitch the less tangible offerings of tech brands such as Google, Sony, Comcast and Vizio. Aiming for authenticity, their intent is to forge emotional connections with viewers in a commercial landscape that’s increasingly saturated by computer-generated imagery.

“We live in a world of such incredible, seamless, mind-blowing special effects. There’s almost more stopping power sometimes these days in showing something that’s been done with human hands,” says Tom Murphy, chief creative officer of McCann Erickson, who oversaw “Frames,” an intricate theatrical commercial for Sony’s Xperia tablet.

From the quaint to the dramatic, ads featuring hand-built models and props stand in stark contrast to elaborate CGI fantasies pitching traditional brands such as Chevrolet, State Farm, Perrier, Old Spice, Snickers, Coca-Cola and Evian. In recent years, these and other companies have blitzed viewers with computerized apocalyptic landscapes, alien robot invasions, trips to the sun and rapid-fire, superhuman metamorphoses—not to the mention a menagerie of talking, singing and dancing babies and critters. (We mean you, Kia hamsters.)

The rise in artisanal marketing echoes Do-It-Yourself mania and the booming demand for handmade foods and goods. Online craft marketplace Etsy, for example, brokered $436.9 million in sales through the first seven months of 2012, putting it on track to sail past the $525.6 million it recorded for all of last year. The homespun buying trend dovetails with research from The Futures Company revealing that more than 80 percent of Americans believe that society is too dependent on technology and that companies have grown inhuman and impersonal.

“With technology being this overarching force in society,” says Futures vp Ryan McConnell, “people are wanting a more human touch.”

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