IPA Scotland chairman Brian Coane on 50 years of Scottish creativity

To coincide with IPA Scotland’s 50th anniversary, Brian Coane, chairman of the trade association and partner at Leith Agency, examines the enduring power of Scottish creativity.

What is surprising when looking back over 50 years is that the challenges we faced as an industry in the 60s are remarkably similar to those we face now.

Picking apart old IPA minutes reveal questions you might well be familiar with today:

How can Scottish agencies persuade businesses to choose local rather than London agencies?

In May 1967, it was minuted that "a letter had been received from Rex Publicity suggesting the IPA should protest to the South of Scotland Electricity Board over their failure to investigate the resources of Scottish agencies before moving the major part of their account to a London based agency".

How do we take advantage of new technology?

"In December 1966 Mr Clark Smith had recently been to London where he investigated the computer services offered to agencies."

How do we guarantee high professional standards?

In March 1968 the chairman observed that "only three students had attended two study weekends". He felt this was "an extremely poor response".

Study weekends? In the 60s? Really? Do you think that’s some sort of euphemism…?

This last joke aside, more than anything, when looking back at Scotland's ads from the past five decades, of which there have been scores of unforgettable, laugh-out-loud and poignant examples, the unwavering theme – the one that has sustained and fuelled our success – is our creativity.

Scottish adland has produced – and been home to – some truly world-class work.

For example, Irn-Bru has a treasure-trove of wonderful TV commercials but 'Snowman' could well be the nation’s all-time favourite. In a genuinely funny parody of Raymond Briggs' 'The Snowman', a wee ginger laddie is swept off his feet by the snowman and taken on a magical aerial journey all round Scotland.

And would 'Caledonia' by Dougie MacLean have become Scotland’s other national anthem if it hadn’t featured in a Tennent's advert? The ad is certainly responsible for several of the Scottish advertising community being drawn back from London.

What makes it work so well? Michael Hart, creative director at the Union, explains: "A good ad tells a story. This one tells us about the irresistible pull of home. Right from the outset we’re willing our hero to get the hell out of London. The song is so well-known these days that it’s difficult to remember how fresh and powerful Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia was back in 1991. Scotland’s unofficial national anthem propels the story forward and helps create an iconic film with an enduring bond between drink and nation. No mean feat."

And let’s not forget the adverts that have saved lives. Ask any Scottish woman in their 20s if they can sing the words of the teen anti-smoking advert 'Why do you keep on running boy?'. I bet they can. It was so successful that the song was released and got to number eight in the charts.

So looking back over 50 years we’re celebrating the creativity of Scottish adland. The clients, the buyers, the planners, the producers and the all round 'make it happen-ers'. But most of all the creatives.

Sometimes working with creatives is difficult. But the link between highly creative advertising and effectiveness is clear and unequivocal.

After all, this is what has made the industry what it is today. Advertising in Scotland is a major and growing sector that is driving jobs, growth and exports. The creative industries in Scotland employ 71,000 people and latest figures show the sector grew 4 per cent year on year. Within that, advertising accounts for more companies, a higher turnover and a higher GVA than music, film & video, computer games or radio and TV.

It is our best chance to compete. As Angus Walker put it: “Now more than ever ideas are needed. We can’t assume we all watched the same channel last night. Nor any telly at all. Only a great big, rude, interruptive, tumescent purple-veined IDEA can do that. More bravery needed."

So in looking back I’d appeal to the challenging side of our personality. To be like Robert Louis Stevenson – one of Edinburgh’s most famous creative minds – and flout convention. Stevenson rejected his Presbyterian upbringing and place in the family engineering dynasty to become a writer.

Describing how he took to a different lifestyle one biographer wrote: "His dress became more bohemian, he wore his hair long, took to wearing a velveteen jacket and rarely attended parties in conventional evening dress."

Sounds like he’d have fitted into an agency perfectly.

Brian Coane is chairman of IPA Scotland and partner at Leith Agency

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