John McLellan: Scotland's ad industry has plenty of fizz

From Ba-Bru and Sandy in the 1930s, to Girders and then the Raymond Briggs' Snowman, Irn-Bru campaigns have led the way for Scottish advertising; now your other national drink is on the march again, this time for the advertising industry itself.

'Scotland has long had a vibrant commercial creative sector,' writes John McLellan. Picture: Contributed
'Scotland has long had a vibrant commercial creative sector,' writes John McLellan. Picture: Contributed

The story goes back a couple of years when the Advertising Association (AA) set out to discover what politicians thought about its industry and the results didn’t make for pretty reading. Amongst SNP MPs in particular, the prevailing view was that advertising was untrustworthy and held in the same high esteem as journalists and bankers.

Following a difficult meeting with Scottish Government civil servants, the London-based AA recognised that it needed representation in Scotland to engage with the political and business communities and so formed the Edinburgh-based Advertising Association.

It also identified the need for specific Scottish data to demonstrate the real impact of advertising on the Scottish economy, instead of making assumptions based on proportionate estimates, and the result was the publication earlier this year of a new economic impact study Advertising pays Scotland.

This showed that every £1 spent on advertising here returned £5 to the Scottish GDP, and so the economic activity driven by the £1.7 billion spent on advertising in Scotland in 2015 contributed £8.8bn to the Scottish economy, underpinning some 42,000 jobs.

The next job was to communicate the findings and so an advertising campaign, couthily titled “Nae bad for an ad” was devised by the Leith Agency, where partner Brian Coane chairs both the Advertising Association Scotland and IPA Scotland. The end product was revealed last week, with the launch of adverts featuring Irn-Bru and The Famous Grouse, which have now started to appear in newspapers, billboards and online.

Scotland has long had a vibrant commercial creative sector based primarily around twin pillars of a strong indigenous media sector and a knot of big Scottish-headquartered corporations, both of which have been under immense pressure in the past ten years.

But the fact that two Scottish-based companies, AG Barr and the distilling giant Edrington, are involved cuts to the chase about future growth of the indigenous advertising industry; the number of marketing decisions being taken here by a shrinking number of significant coroprations.

The talent is here, the industry’s value has been demonstrated, so perhaps the next job is the age-old problem of ensuring big Scottish firms give Scottish agencies a fair crack of the whip.

• John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor