Simon Pitts: Why Scotland's ad industry has the potential to be European leader

Why Scotland's ad industry has the potential to be European leader / John Lewis & Partners

There are apparently around 19 major festive advertising campaigns on screen right now, and that means Christmas can officially begin.

It’s hard to pick a favourite, although the internet has obviously tried. Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot and John Lewis’ Exciteable Edgar the Dragon appear to be the front runners and it’s amazing that a single ad can build such anticipation, divide opinion and spark a national conversation. OK, not a particularly enlightening national conversation (one comment on Edgar the Dragon read: “I just want to point out how unrealistic it is”) but a conversation nonetheless. My favourite (since you ask) is definitely John Lewis, but only because Ava (Edgar the Arsonist’s handler) is played by Glasgow local, Ruby Dailly.

We all know that advertising has the power to enthuse, unite, divide and delight. And regardless of which device you’re watching on, these bite-size pieces of creativity and story-telling are fuelling the UK economy.

The Advertising Association reports that for the £1.7bn spent on advertising each year in Scotland, the contribution to Scottish GDP was £8.8bn – that’s more than £5 back for every £1 spent. Those revenues support around 42,000 jobs and fuel the economy by increasing competition and consumer choice, building strong Scottish brands and boosting our exports in global markets.

Since coming to Scotland I’ve been struck not only by the 15-degree drop in temperature, but by the creative talent, entrepreneurialism, and vibrancy of the small business community. Even in a tough market, key sectors are flourishing and the potential for growth is huge.

That’s what gives Scotland all of the component parts to become a true advertising industry leader in Europe.

Our job at STV is to help achieve that and thereby drive the Scottish economy. With our £10m Growth Fund, we’re offering commercial opportunities to SMEs at an affordable price earlier in their business journey and it’s having a truly transformative effect. Since launching over a year ago, we’ve welcomed over 250 members of the Growth Fund, over half of whom had never advertised on TV before. Over 90% have reported an increase in brand awareness and footfall, more than 50% have seen an increase in profit in their first year, with members also reporting the creation of 236 new jobs and 22 new premises to date. TV advertising works!

More than that, Scotland can be a brilliant testing ground for a new product. We’re a distinct market and a nation of savvy consumers and early adopters, more businesses should see us as a lab for experimentation for how their products might play out on a bigger scale.

As an industry, we’re very good at telling other people’s stories for the small screen in a clever and compelling way. But less good at telling our own story. Working in partnership across the advertising sector we plan to put that right in 2020, and we’re going to start with the all-important issue of trust.

Public trust in advertising has been in decline over the past few decades as digital has grown, and it needs to be rebuilt. TV has a vital role to play here. As one of STV’s Growth Fund members told us recently “We’ve found that people really trust a company that’s on TV”. We’re now working with the Advertising Association on plans to help strengthen consumer trust in advertising with a big new campaign starting next year. More on that soon.

Scotland’s creativity, drive and entrepreneurialism can help light a fire under the Scottish advertising industry and, with a little help from Edgar the Dragon (an advert directed by Scotland's own Dougal Wilson) and friends, we can keep it burning brightly.

Simon Pitts is the chief executive of STV.

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