REGIONAL PRESS: A QUESTION OF QUALITY - Ads with a regional flavour can work if well thought out, but it is still easy to get them wrong

Quality is more important and a good creative will cross any border, Gerry Farrell says.

Back in the mists of time, way back in Scotland B.C. (Before Ciabatta), the Scottish marketing scene was pretty unsophisticated. There was no service culture; the customer was always wrong. There used to be a shop on the south side of Edinburgh with a big sign in the window that said: "No Browsing." Scottish businesses got the advertising they deserved, like the felt underlay warehouse just off the M8 whose hoarding read: "Get Felt Here!" Every furniture retailer had his own ugly mugshot in his ad next to some irrelevant war-cry such as: "Richard F Mackay! Furniture's my middle name!" As a junior copywriter, I was only too happy to help empty Mr Mackay's emporium with choice headlines such as "Forget the silk lingerie this Christmas - buy her wooden drawers."

But the landscape has changed. Glasgow's so glitzy we call it GlasVegas, while in my hometown, Edinburgh, the arrival of Ikea was greeted like the Coming of The Messiah. St Luke's got the launch campaign just right. Its teaser posters showed a tartan-trimmed picture of some Highland cows. A week later, this kitsch scene was obscured by a big blue Ikea store and a single word: progress. It even gave first-time shoppers souvenir tea-towels bearing a Rabbie Burns parody that mocked our scratchy fabrics and lumpy mattresses.

We forgave them for taking the piss because they paid us the compliment of doing it really well.

Of course, it's just as easy to get it wrong. You wouldn't think that selling drink to a Scot was the toughest gig in the world, but while Tennents prospered during its 16 years at Leith, Scottish Courage's London-generated campaigns for McEwans Lager and McEwans SPA failed miserably.

I think the difference was attention to detail. Tennents' Aardman-animated Pintlings campaign, with its affectionately black shades of Taggart and Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus character, featured pint-sized detectives investigating the serial murders of civilian pints whose glass bodies had been drained of all fluids by big pink monsters. Clever casting of their voices added another involving layer for Scottish viewers, who enjoyed identifying Ken Stott from The Vice, Ewan Bremner from Trainspotting and Billy Boyd from Lord of The Rings. The nation's joy was unconfined during the World Cup when, in compensation for Scotland being too crap to qualify, we "murdered" a pint-sized Jimmy Hill as he rhapsodised about 1966. Football. It's not the deepest of cultural differences, is it?

I'll leave the last word to my chairman, John Denholm, who's been both a London client and a Scottish adman.

"I went to a debate in Glasgow where Winston Fletcher was arguing against the motion that 'Scottish advertising needs to be created by Scottish agencies.' He simply played a bunch of great TV clips from UK comedies with English regional content - today's equivalent would be The Royle Family, Only Fools and Horses and The Office - and affected utter astonishment when his audience fell about laughing."

The lesson is that to appeal to Scots, our work doesn't need to be self-consciously Scottish. It just needs to be good.

WHY REGIONAL AGENCIES ARE A STEP AHEAD OF LONDON

All this talk of integrated communications and multi-disciplinary agencies might seem like the new way for agencies to go. However, in the regions every agency has worked this way for at least the past 15 years. London, for once, is behind the times.

As we're more integrated, I think we work harder and smarter for our money in the regions. We believe, like most regional agencies, that we compete on a national level. So whenever we approach any creative brief we take the attitude that the work should be of a quality that will stand out nationally.

So why do clients run regional campaigns anyway?A regional campaign is often a way for a client to do things properly in one or two regions, rather than spreading their media so thin nationally that it becomes ineffective. A regional campaign can also be a test bed for a national campaign.

So if a client has decided to advertise regionally, what's different about the creative brief?

The Flowers & Plants Association, which ran a campaign in Manchester and Leeds, appointed Cheetham Bell JWT and MediaCom North instead of its London agency, because it felt we had a better understanding of the regions in question.

It takes just as long to think up a great regional ad as it does a national one. The trouble is that, more often than not, the lower the media spend, the lower the fee, so, theoretically, the less time an agency can spend on things. In reality, we spend as much time as it takes to get it right.

And, of course, the production budget is also relative.Working with limited resources is about creating a simple well-executed idea, rather than an elaborate idea which ends up stretching the budget and compromising quality.

There are many examples of simple well-executed ads that win major awards every year: The Union's S1 jobs campaign, which won at the 2001 Roses, and our Manchester Evening News campaign which picked up a national IPA Effectiveness award in 2002.

Often we're working with a vast difference in budget to that of a large national campaign, so a creative has to be shrewd. Our clients are exposed to advertising every day and they will compare their ads against the best.

They soon forget that they might have paid a lot less to make their ad than the ones they're comparing it with. So whatever we do has to be quality. - Andy Cheetham is the creative director of Cheetham Bell JWT.

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