In my latest column for Visual Thesaurus, online today, I look at the shifting meaning of artisan in mass-market branding. The word originally meant “a craftsperson who uses traditional or non-mechanized methods.” (And manufacture literally meant “to make by hand,” but that’s another story.) Today, however, it has some strange bedfellows—or tablefellows—including Domino’s new Artisan Pizzas, which cost $7.99 each and are only kidding about the artisan part. “We’re Not Artisans,” reads Domino’s home-page banner, “But This Might Just Convince You We Are.”
Domino’s new “Artisan Pizza”: an inside joke? Photo from GrubGrade.
You’ll have to subscribe to read the full article (just $19.95 a year!). Here’s an excerpt:
In branding, “artisan” has become less a descriptor than an honorific. It’s shorthand for something desirable and time honored, and it’s defined largely by its context. The artisan cheese at your local farmers’ market may in fact have been made by artisans. At Domino’s Pizza, “artisan” is the verbal-branding equivalent of a parsley garnish: attractive but not nutritionally significant. The same can be said—according to the research organization Datamonitor—for many of the 800 or so food products introduced in the last five years that use “artisan” in their names.
Read the rest of “Mass-Market Artisans.”
Speaking for myself, whenever I see “artisan” I think about the Artesians. Does anyone else remember that ad campaign for Olympia beer?
UPDATE: Read “Hand-Crafted Hype: How 'Artisan' Food Became Forever Debased,” in New York magazine's Grub Street blog.
Other posts in the “What Does It Mean?” series: What Does “Urban” Mean?, What Does “Community” Mean?, What Does “Main Street” Mean?
I'm noticing lately that everything is described as "artisanal."
Posted by: Karen | October 26, 2011 at 09:54 AM
Karen: I cover "artisanal" in the column, too. My research shows that it first appeared in print in 1983 in a New York Times story about "earthy, artisanal, sourdough baguette, made according to old-fashioned rules and standards" that "takes seven hours to prepare."
Those rules and standards have relaxed a bit in recent years!
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | October 26, 2011 at 11:33 AM
Gawker's take on the subject yesterday:
Followed today by Heinz's artisanal ketchup (no kidding!): http://gawker.com/5853415/a-ketchup-for-the-1
Posted by: Jill | October 26, 2011 at 11:38 AM
I imagine that the "artisinal grains" you mention in the article have the same general glow that "organic" does in a similar context. Paging William Morris!
You will not be at all surprised to hear that "artisan" and "artisinal" are applied to software, as a quick search will reveal. For software in particular, the literal meaning seems particularly odd, since all software is in effect crafted by hand; try as it might, the software industry has not worked out a way to industrialize its craft.
Posted by: mike | October 26, 2011 at 12:27 PM
I noticed the "artisan" term pop up a lot these days; and I notice more that people don't know how to pronounce it. A local radio station had an in-house personality reading promo for Starbucks artisan sandwiches, though he kept saying "artesian" sandwiches. At my local target the other week, I had a lady ask me if I would like a sample of a pizza with an "artesian" crust.
Posted by: Jen | October 28, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Since I am typing this by hand and on a traditional keyboard that means this comment is artisan.
Posted by: Scott | December 14, 2011 at 11:16 PM