Effective craft should be less about kerning and more about culture

Supermassive co-founder Jon Austin thinks the fictional soccer manager Ted Lasso can teach creatives a lot about 'craft', audience attention spans and compelling cultural content.

Man, how good was the season finale of Ted Lasso? I – and you, don’t lie – cried my eyes out. The kindness! The empathy! The Lasso Way of it all! That show is like a digital cuddle in these uncertain times.

And it’s no accident. Because the Lasso Way wasn’t always the Lasso Way.

TV character Ted Lasso.

Ted Lasso was first born in 2013 for an NBC Sports campaign. If you watch it now, he’s not quite the character we recognise today.

He was brash, belligerent, comically dumb.

Years later, when the idea for an entire show based on the character was floated, the American landscape was reeling from the effects of Donald Trump. People were tense. Cruelty had become a political sport. Optimism was in high demand and short supply.

And so, Jason Sudeikis and the creative team crafted a character to speak to culture more appropriately. Ted Lasso went from uncaring to endlessly positive; he became empathy and optimism personified. And audiences clung to the show like a life raft.

It became the highest Emmy-winning comedy two years running. Ted Lasso was invited to Biden’s White House to talk about mental health. You can now choose Ted Lasso as your team’s upbeat manager in FIFA 23.

He filled a void in culture to offer an escape from an increasingly bleak reality. And he represents a type of craft we don’t pay nearly enough attention to.

Crafting for culture.

‘Craft’ is a loaded word in our industry.

As audience attention spans grow shorter and content is considered more ‘disposable’, it’s easy to see why. The two sides feel completely antithetical. Craft takes an investment of time, energy, and often, money. Disposability considers all three a waste when we only have a fleeting moment of engagement.

But are we viewing this narrow window of attention the wrong way?

Sure, audience attention is getting shorter. But that doesn’t mean they love stuff less. It doesn’t make what they engage with in that short timeframe less valuable.

And it definitely doesn’t mean they treat content disposably. Quite the opposite.

Research firm Luminate just revealed that global music streaming audiences have spent more than 960,000 years listening to tracks in 2023 so far. By 2025, the gaming industry is set to be worth over $268 billion. Right now, 57% of people would give up sleep to binge watch a show. Six out of 10 of us can no longer stand still without consuming content. People now consider entertainment as vital as their health.

That’s not a disposable mindset. That’s a mindset of devotion.

See, what we think is a problem with audience attention isn’t a problem at all. It’s an opportunity. Shorter attention spans are amazing.

Characters from the TV show Ted Lasso.

They condense our audiences’ passion, conversation and behaviour into white hot, brilliantly malleable moments. And the brands that get onboard are achieving disproportionate engagement and effectiveness.

The sale of white Vans spiked by 7,800% after people watched Squid Games.

The Australian Federal Police’s recruitment among women rose by 40% after their hugely popular true crime podcast Crime Interrupted with CaseFile Presents.

Dr Dre found relevance with an entire new audience after releasing tracks exclusively through GTA V.

We need to realise that against narrowing windows of opportunity, where audiences have both the means and the motivation to filter out the shit they don’t like to give them more time with the stuff they adore, the most effective craft we can employ to take us out of the former and into the latter is the cultural kind.

Just look at McDonald’s. Once most famous for their big TV and out of home campaigns, the brand now makes global headlines through their sharply honed, culturally crafted output, which is then amplified through paid media.

From their Famous Orders platform to their adult Happy Meals, McDonald’s understands the importance of cultural craft. In the words of their US CMO Tariq Hassan, they’re “moving from talking brand to fan to truly talking fan to fan”.

And it’s paying off for them big time. The brand has achieved nine straight quarters of same-store sales growth, with US comparable sales growing more than 10% for all of 2022.

So let’s settle the whole craft debate once and for all. Because we’re all right.

Yes, we have narrow windows of audience engagement, and yes, craft is critical to leveraging them. But we need to stop thinking about craft as simply the sharpening of kerning and composition, and start sharpening the hooks that will make ideas stick in culture.

The stuff that entertains rather than interrupts. The stuff that draws people in rather than pushing unwelcome into their lives.

That’s how we go from being disposable to being indispensable.

Jon Austin is the co-founder of Supermassive.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.