When I lived in Sydney, I regularly travelled by ferry to the
suburb of Manly, famous for its rugby team and fantastic surfing
beaches. As you got off the boat a huge sign hung low in the ferry dock
proudly proclaimed: ’Manly, seven miles from Sydney and a million miles
The same sort of thing could also be said of Scotland today. In this
respect I don’t mean the old, cliched view of Scotland where porridge,
pickled eggs and haggis are presumed to be the only things ever eaten,
where it’s obviously taken for granted that heather grows rampantly on
every street and where dreich weather (Scottish for dull and horrible)
shrouds the country almost all of the time.
No, when I think of Scotland I think of it as a lively progressive
place, populated by people every bit as intelligent, witty and go-ahead
as can be found in London. A place where, almost uniquely, people have
successfully integrated the best of the old with the best of the new and
where constant change is a way of life, not something that’s thrust
intermittently on a group of poor, unsuspecting souls.
That’s why Scotland is seen as such an ideal test market area by most
fmcg manufacturers. People there aren’t afraid to try something new and,
given its geography, any test can be relatively easily contained within
the area. Representing almost 10 per cent of the UK’s population,
Scotland is of sufficient size to give a realistic indication of
national consumption while at the same time being one of the best
’value’ places to invest in because of the Scots’ natural love of all
media, particularly television.
As such it is possible to influence any desired sector of Scottish
society relatively easily with a minimum wastage and at a low absolute
In doing so advertisers must remember the one golden rule about
successfully advertising in Scotland and that is that it’s not a
separate region of the UK or (worse still) England, but a separate,
quite distinctive country in its own right. Research undertaken by
various different bodies has highlighted time and again that commercials
produced specifically for Scotland work far better than off-the-shelf
ones - although the audience is sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate
that this is not always possible.
Disposable incomes are higher than average in Scotland because of the
relatively low level of home ownership, although this may change in the
medium term as a result of the present hectic activity in the housing
market. Households are bigger in size than average which inevitably
leads to higher overall consumption, although some of the products and
some of the purchase patterns are idiosyncratic, to say the least.
So, for example, Jo Brand, Channel 4’s star comedienne, says that
Scotland is her favourite country by far as her natural Catholic guilt
is suppressed by the whole population’s way-above-average scoffing of
cakes, sweets, buns, fizzy drinks - in fact, anything sweet at all. Even
saccharin tablets like Hermesetas sell best in Scotland, although I’ve
never yet discovered whether this is people making things sweeter
without extra sugar or whether it’s that very small percentage of Scots
who try desperately hard not to eat sweet things yet still crave the
Fast food is also very big business north of the border, with the local
fish and chip shops still dominating the market. In such establishments,
all the normal sort of ’extras’ - like the aforementioned pickled eggs -
are sold, plus two other very Scottish items. Mars bars, which are fried
in the chipper either neat or covered in batter - a rare low-calorie
Scottish delicacy - and Askit Powders.
These are liver salts designed to cleanse the body after all that eating
and drinking. Suitably refreshed, any Scot can retire to their bed in
the sure and certain knowledge that their unplanned excesses will be
magically worked out of their system during the night. Also fundamental
to any self respecting Scot is a love of a quite unique fizzy drink
called Irn-Bru, which is drunk in gallons by them all. Containing more E
numbers than one could possibly imagine, it now has a sister product
called Diet Irn-Bru, which seems like an oxymoron if ever there was
It’s not just fmcg products that thrive in Scotland, though. Scotland is
without doubt the second biggest financial market in the UK, has a
booming travel market driven primarily through the rapidly developing
Glasgow airport and has become a major centre for telecoms companies.
Home furnishing stores such as Behar, Capones, Landmark, Reids and
Sterling continue to flourish in Scotland alone, while the
double-glazing boom which sagged in England with the fall from grace of
Everest, never affected its Scottish counterparts, Penicuik and C. R.
As you would expect, alcohol plays a big part in the Scottish market
with Scotland having its own brands that are positioned at a distance
from their English counterparts - even from when they are made by the
same company. And last but by no means least, there is a huge media war
going on in Scotland at present with all the popular English dailies
trying to steal market share from the ever powerful Daily Record.
As every Scot knows, the last two lines of their unofficial national
anthem, Oh Flower of Scotland, are ’but we can still rise now and be a
The song was penned at a time when the Scots were massively oppressed by
English tyranny and every ounce of bile that could be produced was
directed at their oppressors. In 1997, however, Scotland is very much
one nation, strong and confident, united under one common banner with
its own elected assembly - a reality of the near future.
Given this strength in the Scottish market and the apparent disunity
that reigns in England, perhaps it would be an Englishman who would
write such a song today while looking jealously over the border at the
undoubted success that Scotland now enjoys.