Small is the new big

Main Image Detail102069308 / David Malan /Photographers Choice


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Nearly 40 years ago, Economist EF Schumacher published a book called ‘Small Is Beautiful’. It criticised the idea of ‘gigantism’, of ‘big’. In short, he suggested that we need to downsize, re-organise how we make things and how we live.

Half a century on, Schumacher’s language is the currency of the day. With the slow demise of manufacturing industries in developed economies, increased flexibility in globalized labour markets, and the disappearance of traditional post-college career paths, small businesses are becoming increasingly important - economically, culturally and socially – small is the new big.

Consider these statistics on small business. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, in the U.S, small businesses have generated 64 percent of new jobs in the last 15 years. In Australia, government research shows that small businesses account for almost half of industry employment in 2009-2010. While in UK small businesses accounted for 47 per cent of private sector employment. These are significant parts of a modern economy. So what are the visual communications strategies for marketers talking to small businesses?

Photographically it echoes a style we noted back in a 2006 report - ‘Guru Joe’. The everyman figure, the ordinary worker who began to replace the chief executive as the representative of corporate life. Small businesses are the inheritors of this language of storytelling.

Mastercard promoted their small business card with a series of simple, portraits of entrepreneurs that expresses uncompromising honesty through statements from the business people in clear, simple type. While The Allied Irish Bank paid for the production and airing of ads for a range of small businesses, the most effective ads putting the small business people in front of camera, such as this quirky ad for Murphy’s Ice Cream.

But the most talked about campaign is the American Express Small Business Saturday campaign launched in 2010. In the US, Small Business Saturday sits between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, held on the Saturday after the US celebration of Thanksgiving. The American Express Small Business site offers a range of tools to help small businesses promote and market themselves. It also encourages shop-owners and customers to spread the word through social networking.

This year, in conjunction with Facebook it launched the American Express Open/ Facebook campaign. The campaign featured reportage style promos featuring skateboard makers, wool shop owners, catering companies supporting their Big Break campaign. The main website offers practical small business advice, but where the campaign really hits home emotionally is around linking small with community, highlighting how these business are an essential element of our civic social life of building ‘neighbourliness’. 

The small business ethic and aesthetic is something even big businesses like American Express are responding to. Not just because small business means business for the financial services sector, but because it connects with the broader social and visual trend of ‘small is the new big.’ When it’s done right, as with the American Express campaign, it is seamless in its ‘authenticity’.

Take a look at more images representing small business from our collection

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