It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. There’s artisanal food, artisanal furniture, and artisanal mining – yep, that’s a thing. So what does the word actually mean? And why does it seem to be thrown around so carelessly?
First things first: an artisan, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a person or company that produces something (such as cheese or wine) in limited quantities, often using traditional methods.” When we think of an artisan, we often think of small business owners with years of experience, running a small operation selling cheese, furniture, and so on. We like the idea of supporting small shops who still care about their craft enough to run things the old-fashioned way. “Artisan” has come to mean “quality,” “old-fashioned,” “small batch,” “traditional” and “skillful,” among other colourful words.
And companies eat that thought process for breakfast.
What Companies Want You to Think
Businesspeople are trained to look for trends in the marketplace. When society decides they like “mindfulness,” or “gluten-free,” or “artisan” companies listen, and are quick to jump on that train.
Let’s look at an example, shall we?
Enter Tostitos Artisan Recipes. Look at that packaging: there’s a whole husk of corn there, like someone just picked it fresh off the stalk – nevermind that there’s also corn maltodextrin in there. There’s also a spoonful of black beans there – but not just any spoon. That’s a freakin cooking spoon, suggesting that someone is carefully presiding over these beans while they cook in small batches in some cozy corner of the world.
Yeah… we all know that’s not the case. Tostitos, including Artisan Recipes, are manufactured in a factory by mechanical means. There is nothing artisanal about them. But how often do we stop to think about that? How often do we consciously question what’s being fed to us by companies?
Let’s go back to the definition of an artisan. Are Tostitos produced in limited quantities? Maybe… if you consider millions of bags to be a limited quantity. Are the methods traditional? Of course not, tortilla chips were traditionally made by hand, not in a factory. Hell, Tostitos itself isn’t even a person or company, it’s a brand owned by Pepsi! There is absolutely nothing artisanal about Tostitos Artisan Recipes. They’re not the only ones though – there are a ton of brands and companies out there that would love for you to think their products are made by skilled craftsmen in small quantities, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Wrapping it Up
As a marketer by profession, I can tell you that there are people out there who will try to mislead you with respect to their products, and there are people out there advertising products for all the right reasons too.
What I want to see more of is mindful consumption. Before you buy something, pause for a second. Think about why you want what you want. If it’s the story you’re being told about the brand and product, take a second to question that story. Make sure that, if a company is suggesting something to you, that it’s actually true. That goes for everything from artisanal products to organic products, products labeled “healthy” to products labeled “sustainable.”
The reality is that there’s way less regulation out there than you think around what companies can and can’t say, so you owe it to yourself as a consumer to stop and think about what you’re buying, why you’re buying it, and if everything you’re being told is actually true. If you find a company that gives you the real deal (and they’re out there), give them your business – they’re all too rare these days.