In My Opinion: Bill Farrar: Taking the case for advertising to Holyrood

WHAT would Scotland look like without advertising? Our streets would be less colourful, certainly, but it’s the effect on our economy, our businesses and our society that would be most dramatic. It wouldn’t feel much like home anymore.

So why do the Advertising Association’s annual surveys show long-term declines in public trust and confidence in advertising? Why is this value so rarely recognised?

The Association – tasked with promoting the role, rights and responsibilities of advertising – is on a mission to fix that.

It pulls leaders from across our brands, agencies and media together to make the positive case for advertising. And in recent years, the ‘needle has started to shift’ in Westminster.

But no longer is the power to quell our creative freedom centralised. And no matter how we vote on September 18th, Holyrood is sure to grow its say over what we, working across advertising’s myriad forms, can and can’t say – and where.

So when our Association chair, Cilla Snowball, asked me to take advertising’s fight north of the border, I gladly accepted.

Some of Scotland’s best marketers, agency types and media owners have already joined the cause – from Highland Spring’s Sally Stanley to MediaCom’s Murray Calder, to STV’s Peter Reilly – alongside many others with varied but vested interests in improving advertising’s reputation.

Our challenge is to win the hearts and minds of Holyrood. Scotland’s corridors of power need a new way of thinking – not about what advertising does to people, but what it does for them.

Currently, when faced with a societal problem, the first instinct is often to attack the ads.

There’s a Holyrood Bill looking to ban alcohol ads from posters and in cinemas. The Scottish Government is building yet another group to brainstorm new ways to reduce the number of food ads our young people see.

These debates need an injection of evidence, and a reminder of why the oxygen of advertising is so important. Its macro-economic impact for example: in 2011, it is estimated that £16 billion of adspend across the UK returned £100 billion to GDP. The support for our media. The fuel for creativity. Driving the digital economy at record speeds. Supporting jobs across all sectors. Encouraging exports.

And where is the support for advertising in Scotland? Are we encouraging our young people to learn the skills our industries need? Advertising is a critical tool in growing small businesses – is the Scottish Government doing enough to show companies of all sizes that advertising is an affordable, straightforward and efficient investment? Is it up to our industries to make that case more clearly?

I’m delighted to lead the charge in Scotland to ensure that advertising, and all the incredible creative, and effective, work that we do, is fairly recognised.

That is why yesterday – at the Amplify marketing festival, held in Edinburgh, and run by the Scots division of the Marketing Society – saw us from the Advertising Association sponsor the Referendum Question Time session, to help us all think bigger about the importance of what we do.

And if you want to help shape our agenda, our plans, and our ambition, I hope you’ll give me a call.

Bill Farrar is group sales and marketing director for Edrington and chair of the Advertising Association, Scotland.

A version of this article appeared on the website of the Marketing Society (here) ahead of a day-long festival of marketing held in Edinburgh yesterday. ‘Amplify’ was hosted by the Scottish division of the Marketing Society.