Kwik-Fit retrospective

By The Drum, Administrator

April 24, 2003 | 9 min read

Kwik Fit work

Kwik-Fit and the Scottish ad industry have been synonymous with one another for the last two decades. The work done by Halls, Timberbush, Morgans and Faulds proves that Scottish advertising can build national brands. Katy Archer looks back at life working on Kwik-Fit.

The loss of a multi-million pound ad account was always going to be a hard one to stomach by all who are passionate about the future of the Scottish advertising industry.

But what do those who worked on the Kwik-Fit account at high-profile agencies such as Hall Advertising, Timberbush, The Morgan Partnership and, finally, Faulds make of the announcement that Kwik-Fit has headed south of the border?

Roy Woodward was chief executive of Halls in 1985 when the Kwik-Fit account arrived at the agency. He has fond memories of the ten years spent working on the account and what it meant for the Scottish advertising industry.

“Of course it is a great loss for the Scottish agencies,” he admits. “The vision and faith that Sir Tom Farmer had was clear for all to see. He was the first to put the emphasis on quality of service and not just the prices, and he had recognised how strong the tagline actually was. He realised the emotional values that the advertising campaign, especially on the TV, placed on its audience and he allowed us to exploit that to maximum effect. We were really the first brand within that sector to do that and others soon copied.”

Many from this era have fond memories of Sir Tom and his marketing team, and Woodward points to the reason – they were accessible to the agency.

“We would always talk directly to either Peter Holmes or Sir Tom and that meant that the understanding of the brand was dealt with from very early on. It was an efficient and well organised team,” he says.

Another industry stalwart who worked on the account at Halls was Ian Wright of Family, who remembers quite clearly the timing of his joining the company.

“I joined Halls in October 1992 as part of a new team that included Mike Ward as planning director and Bill Thomson as creative director. In the first week of being at the company we were told that not only Kwik-Fit was up for review, but also, at the same time, the supermarket chain Lowes was up for review too. I hasten to add that I don’t think that we had anything to do with that,” he adds, wryly.

“But it does sum up that particular era. I enjoyed working on the pitch. It was a classic piece of retail, but at the same time was an extremely strong brand. In our industry there is a feeling that if you can tackle a retail brand then you can tackle just about anything, and I would say that Kwik-Fit was the dream account to learn on. It was good fun, but also very hard work, and there were not only good people at the agency but the clients, Peter Holmes and Peter Nowell in particular, were really fun to work with.”

Nowell, who has recently joined navyblue as strategy director, remembers the times fondly and with astounding accuracy.

He says: “When I joined Halls on 1 January 1985 I had the opportunity to work with Kwik-Fit, and this began an eight-year relationship with the company that ended in 1993. Just as I joined we were just about to take the company from a regional market to a national scale and the work that we did was very impressive. The share price in 1985 was only 28p; by the time that I left it was at 196p. It shows the effect that the brand, coupled with strong advertising, had.”

Kwik-Fit would often use real messages and images in order to promote its message. But these adverts would have to be conveyed over a huge scale, says Nowell, and because of that the budget for the ad accounts were huge. “In 1985 the spend was something like £5m – and that is something that we should acknowledge, the fact that there has always been an underestimation on what was spent. It only took into account the ad spend for national press and not local coverage, which was an awful lot. Kwik-Fit was a large player on the European stage. But, it is no longer on that stage, and times are changing. I do, however, feel proud to have worked on the brand. It was a baptism of fire at times but, quite simply, I thought it was great.”

The over-reliance on the infamous tagline, however, was something that got the company into trouble, says founder partner of Timberbush, and now director of 60 Watt, Ian Hawke.

“There was just too much reliance on the brand and the tagline and not much emphasis on moving forward,” says Hawke. “When it was at Timberbush, and then subsequently went onto The Morgan Partnership, we would try to get new work pushed through, but would find our heads banging against a wall. I mean, even the largest brands, like Coca Cola, have to update their campaigns and push work forward, but there was a feeling, which came from Sir Tom, that they could just make do with what they had. And ultimately that was why it failed with us.

“I am convinced that privately there are people at Faulds who are relieved that it has gone down south, because now they can focus their attention on something new.”

Ian McAteer, managing director of The Union, has worked within the industry for over twenty years. Having recently been appointed chairman of the Scottish IPA he was naturally upset that the decision to move the account out of Scotland was taken and was eager to voice his opinion. “I think that it is a total tragedy. The account has been associated with Scotland for such a long time. The development that was done on it over the years – from its humble beginnings up to ‘Can’t Get Better Than A Kwik-Fit Fitter’ – helped the brand become what it is now. The decision to take it out of Scotland baffles me.”

The company may have had its faults, and with proponents of a cause will always come detractors. Only time will tell how successful BMP DDB will be with the brand. However, the strapline will go down in advertising history as something truly refreshing and innovative, and, frankly, you can’t get better than that.

The birth of the Kwik-Fit fitters

by Jim Downie

In the mid- to late 70s, at the gone but not forgotten Hall Advertising, we went through a crazy period of pitching for work and usually succeeding. The Scottish Office, Standard Life, The Royal Bank of Scotland, the Scottish Health Education Unit, the Daily Record, GB papers, Dodge City, Irvine Development: all big hitters in their own way, they came on board along with a small fry account that arrived, but didn’t stay long. That account was Kwik-Fit, the brainchild of one, Wee Tommy Farmer (Sir Tom was to come much later). If my memory serves me well we weren’t quite on the same wave length creatively, but we must have done something that kept us in the frame as they returned a few years later with the task of helping them improve their brand awareness.

The year was 1984 and Halls was going through major management changes at the time. I presented my first TV ideas to Peter Holmes, the marketing director. Let’s just say he was very complimentary but a little nervous of what was to become known as “The Fitter Campaign” and said it probably would be a good idea if I took it to Tommy myself to see what he thought.

That half-hour meeting was probably the most important one in Kwik-Fit’s 30 years of advertising development. With a little cajoling and “It’ll be all right on the night”, I got the green light to sign up Sid Roberson to make the first Kwik-Fit brand-only commercial. Before the public could see the work I had to present it at my first of many Kwik-Fit conferences. The Bathgate Roadhouse Hotel, I do believe. In these less than salubrious surroundings the jury, which consisted of a couple of hundred hard-nosed centre managers, gave a generous thumbs up and I ended the evening mighty relieved, but lost an old favourite tie, which Tommy swapped for a spanking new Kwik-Fit one. Probably his way of saying he liked what he saw too. The success that followed took on its own momentum and over the next five years we made many more “Fitters”.

This led to other advertisers continually putting their twist on the line, and sketch after sketch on dozens of comedy shows aping the blue-overalled dancers. As luck would have it nearly 10 years after leaving Halls I was reunited with the account once more at Faulds, where we continued to turn out good solid work. But that was then, and this is now. Sir Tom is gone from the scene and Kwik-Fit has new masters. I’ve always admired BMP as an agency, so let’s hope that they look after the account as diligently and professionally as the countless number of advertising people in Scotland did.

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