Comment: The power of the Scottish advertising industry

Advertising supports some 42,000 jobs in Scotland, Weed notes. Picture: Philip Gatward.
Advertising supports some 42,000 jobs in Scotland, Weed notes. Picture: Philip Gatward.
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As nations go, there are few that can match Scotland in terms of brand identity, and the country has a heritage of advertising uniquely Scottish products and services.

Some of these examples might historically have included the odd cliché, but today there is a host of innovative businesses at the forefront of the Scottish economy.

Many of them are global leaders in their field such as the ground-breaking digital platform Skyscanner, or the market disruptor BrewDog, which has shaken up the drinks market. It has always been true that Scotland has a clear ability to take an idea and use advertising and marketing to make it famous worldwide.

Scotland’s advertising industry will be the focus of a unique summit this November that brings the realms of politics and advertising together for the first time.

The inaugural Lead Scotland event on 14 November in Edinburgh will bring together speakers from the Scottish Government and organisations like STV, Channel 4, Direct Line Group and Sky.

Billed as where advertising meets politics, our new event aims to shine a light on the advertising industry in Scotland and topics that are crucial to its future success: foremost among these is fostering growth and entrepreneurialism across the country.

Advertising has a vital role in the Scottish economy. It generates £8.8 billion of GDP and supports high-growth digital and creative sectors.

Research commissioned by the Advertising Association and the industry’s think tank Credos found that, on average, £1 of advertising spend returns £5 to the Scottish economy. The £1.7bn spent on advertising in Scotland results in an £8.8bn contribution – or 5.6 per cent – of the Scottish economy.

Widespread benefits

The report also found that advertising supports some 42,000 jobs in Scotland and its benefits flow through the media, digital and creative industries. It supports creative talent across directors, animators, producers, photographers, actors and more.

The ability of advertising to support economic growth, especially among Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), is huge and we know these businesses form the backbone of the nation’s economy. According to Scottish Government figures from March 2018, there were nearly 350,000 SMEs operating in Scotland, providing some 1.2 million jobs.

They accounted for over 99 per cent of all private sector businesses and provided nearly 55 per cent of private sector employment.

Interestingly, advertising can benefit an SME to an even greater degree than a larger established business. As a firm scales up, the need to reach a wider range of customers across a bigger variety of formats is crucial – from online, out of home, to print media, TV and radio.

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All have the ability to reach audiences that SMEs need in order to grow. Scottish advertising agencies, media buyers and platforms offer local, specialised knowledge – but have the business links and market knowledge to act as a route to a far wider audience, not just in Scotland but into international markets.

That’s all great news, but the advertising industry in Scotland is at a crucial fork in the road. While many people recognise the benefits of advertising, it is not broadly recognised that so much of the internet and digitally enabled tools from free search and maps to posts and tweets are funded by advertising.

We perhaps haven’t done enough to explain this. New research has shown people are trusting advertising less than before so rebuilding public trust in the sector and our industry is key.

Our research has shown there are things about advertising that people don’t like, such as a sense they are being bombarded by ads to concerns around the promotion of pay day loans.

Positive steps

We plan to address this head on with a series of actions for our industry, more of which will be discussed at Lead Scotland.

This event is for everyone interested in our industry – from advertisers to policy decision-makers, from media owners, like the publisher of this newspaper you’re reading right now, to advertising agencies.

It’s our chance to come together and discuss the future of Scottish advertising and how we can help Scottish businesses grow, supporting more jobs and opportunities in the years ahead.

Lead Scotland takes place on 14 November at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Keith Weed is the former global chief marketing officer (CMO) of Unilever and was recently recognised by Forbes and LinkedIn as the Most Influential CMO in the World for the third consecutive year.

He was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame this year and last month it was announced that he had been appointed to the board of advertising giant WPP as a non-executive director.