Agency suspends top ad man over row with Steve Cardownie

Gerry Farrell
Gerry Farrell
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A TOP advertising guru hired to mastermind the Edinburgh Winter Festival campaign has been suspended because he allowed “inappropriate spill-
over” of his personal views into a major publicly-funded project, it has been claimed.

Gerry Farrell – who personally designed the award-
winning Irn-Bru television campaigns – has been suspended from The Leith Agency following a string of furious outbursts on Twitter.

As the Evening News revealed yesterday, he launched an ill-tempered tirade against city festivals champion, Steve Cardownie, accusing him of spreading “poison” about the under-fire campaign.

His firm was paid public cash by Marketing Edinburgh to create the Christmas marketing drive, but the results – built around slogans like “romance isn’t dedinburgh” – were dubbed “absolutely appalling” by some critics.

The tweets that landed Farrell in hot water are believed to have been directed at Cardownie. One said: “Phew! No leaks to the media today from Deputy Steve Carbootsale. King Cobra clearly run out of poison for the time being.”

Today, the firm’s managing director Richard Marsham said Farrell had allowed his own views to impact on the campaign, which cost taxpayers around £300,000.

He told the Evening News: “Gerry is basically on a temporary suspension until we conduct a review. Initially, this began as a very professional defence of the campaign but in the last 24 hours this has strayed into personal insults, which we as an agency do not and cannot condone.

“He was one of the key originators of the campaign from day one and he is a very passionate believer and supporter of it, which may in turn have led to what happened. There was no requirement to stray into personal insults – it was an inappropriate spillover.

“As a group we remain 100 per cent behind the campaign.”

Business consultant Ruth McKay, chair of the Edinburgh branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, attended the launch of the Winter Festival campaign and said it was a “completely unique campaign”.

However, she said it was a “high-risk strategy” which had become “muddied” due to the unseemly row.

She said: “I can understand why he would be upset, the issue of the ‘incredinburgh’ slogan has become somewhat muddied as it was only ever intended as a hashtag and not a slogan. I’ve worked in the past on many slogans and brands for campaigns and it has always been clear to me that you should keep personal views out of a professional matter. It is a shame that the campaign is now being overshadowed.”

Steve Cardownie, deputy leader of Edinburgh City Council, declined to comment on the suspension – simply adding that he was looking forward to the Christmas campaign getting under way.


By Brian Williams, Lecturer in creative advertising at Edinburgh Napier University

Advertising is a tough, passionate business. It’s not life and death, like football, but its people (its best people) are similarly strong and opinionated.

And Gerry’s the top of the game. Even amongst folk who don’t like him he commands a deserved respect as a bastion of creativity within the industry.

Since 1987 he has been responsible for and overseer of most of the iconic ad campaigns in Scottish advertising. Irn-Bru, Standard Life, Tennent’s, Honda, VisitScotland, Scotrail have all benefited massively from his ministrations.

And, it’s fair to say, he’s saved lives. He’s stopped people carrying knives. He’s stopped people taking drugs. He’s got women to look at their breasts. His advertising isn’t just about the fun stuff.

In an industry not particularly well known for its philanthropy Gerry spends much of his time giving talks to businesses and inspiring future practitioners (he pays his interns

a fair wage

while they work at Leith . . .

a phenomenon in itself) not for his own benefit but to raise the awareness of how good the ad industry is in Scotland.

If you go down to London and ask the Don Drapers down there to name a Scottish ad agency the one (and, possibly, the only one) they would name would be The Leith Agency. And whilst it is not totally Gerry’s doing, he has the lion’s share of it. He’s a great ambassador for Scottish creativity.

Gerry speaks his mind. No muttering in the shadows for him. And no anonymous gossiping behind backs. But, and this is the thing, you know where you stand with him. In this day and age that’s a rare and, I believe, admirable thing.

He’s not the first person to be hung out to dry by that stupid blue bird . . . and I’m sure he won’t be the last. Twitter is not for the passionate. And they don’t come any more passionate than Gerry.