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Ageless advertising

By The Drum | Administrator

July 26, 2007 | 7 min read

Timeless classics

A good ad is an ad which is fresh, original, provocative and memorable. All the qualities are synonymous with creativity. Bill Bernbach, the advertising doyen of the 50's and 60's put it this way: “The truth isn't the truth until people believe you; and they can't believe you if they don't know what you're saying; and they can't know what you're saying if they don't listen to you; and they won't listen to you if you're not interesting. And you won't be interesting unless you say things freshly, originally, imaginatively.”

Some of the freshest, most original and imaginative work has been displayed over the last 21 years at the Scottish Advertising Awards. But which adverts would still stand out in the ever-fragmented market now governed by an increasingly savvy audience? What campaigns have left a lasting mark?

“A great ad is a great ad and the best ads are timeless,” says Colin Marr, Scottish advertising’s very own doyen. “Creativity hasn’t changed in the last 21 years. It hasn’t even changed in the last 60 years.”

Bernbach wrote a letter in 1947 to the owners of Grey Advertising where he was creative director two years before Doyle Dane Bernbach was born: “There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this short or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier and more inviting reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there's one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

“It's that creative spark that I'm so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don't want academicians. I don't want scientists. I don't want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things,” he said.

“It’s no different today,” Marr continues, “more and more clients are looking for formulas to guarantee success. Everything is researched and analysed, measured and programmed to the point of creating a sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. Whilst the media landscape may have changed, offering more creative opportunities, it does not follow that this will translate into more creative excellence. Because what hasn’t changed, is, there are no easy rights of passage. You still have to kick and scream your way to the top. You still have to work extremely hard to blaze new trails and prove to the world that good ideas, good design and good copy can make for better selling.”

“What makes for a good advert?” asks Brian Williams, creative director at The Big Picture. “Ask a client and it’s sales. Ask a creative and it’s awards. Ask my mum and it’s a laugh. If you ask me, when our work does all three I’m ecstatic.

“The great ads of the last 21 years would still be relevant. They could still capture a media-savy audience. They would need contemporising - restyling or reshooting, the typography would need a facelift and the copy might need a tweak but, given that, the great ads would be just as powerful today. Because they were strong concepts.”

“It’s been a wonder to see the effects technology has had on ‘creativity’ over the past two decades. But there is a myth that surrounds such technology. The true wonder is that at the end of the day we all still pursue one eternal, simple, holy grail: the great idea.”

A good ad must be single-minded, simple, and make contact with its audience. If it doesn’t, it’s failed, believes Guy Gumm. “Two of the best ads I can think of in the last 21year’s are the TV campaign for BBC Radio Scotland using animated type and the radio audio. It was so simple and fresh. Also a press ad for anti smoking, the visual of a cigarette and the headline “Goes through 30 a day.” Again, so simple and so much impact.

“These two examples don’t date, they are still as fresh today. A great idea will never go out of fashion.”

Andrew Lindsay, creative director at The Union, says that it can be very hard to choose a favourite Scottish advert of the last 21 years, as there have been some crackers – but cites Whisky Galore for Tennent’s, Ice cream van for S1 and Top Cat for RBS as stand out.

“We are living in an age of technology,” says Lindsey, “we have the ability to do things now we wouldn’t have even dreamed off 21 years ago. Our audience is a damn sight more media savvy and they are far more fragmented. And the sheer volume of information out there now means that we are allowed far less time to get our message over.”

A simple truth makes for a good ad, claims The Bridge’s creative director, Jonathan d’Aguilar, “I'm more interested in lasting campaigns than one off ads, so would pick the Quick Fit Fitters and Tennent’s T as the best examples.

“Simple relevant ideas don't go out of fashion so, provided the execution was brought up to date, many could still work today.

“Technology has made the creative palette much larger in terms of visual imagery,” he continues, “this has led to more emphasis on visual ideas in advertising and less on writing and reasoned argument.”

Roy McCallum, of Levy McCallum, agrees: “The arrival of computerised studios has given much of the print media advertising a similar look and we need to break out of that.

“Creativity 21 years ago and beyond was at a high level. Around 1975 Halls came up with a press campaign for RBS involving a cheque book sucked dry like a toothpaste tube. In the Finance Sector I’ve seen nothing better since.

“John Carrick (the similarly ancient art director with whom I share my life) and I agree that The Blues Brothers ads for Tennents and the Bank of Scotland ads featuring “Howard” are up among the best in the last 21 years though. Both campaigns made things happen in very crowded, competitive markets.”

Now, having had you memory jogged by some of Scotland’s top advertising creatives, The Drum would like to hear your views on the best advertising to be created in Scotland over the past 21 years.

What, in your opinion, has left a lasting mark on the industry? What creative execution do you wish you had dreamed up? As part of the Scottish Advertising Awards’ 21st Anniversary we are looking to identify your favourite advert created in Scotland over the last 21 years. To have your say email or visit


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