1984. Dundee. A company called Acme Software sets up shop; a spin-off from the Kingsway Amateur Computer Club, where enthusiasts would wow the assembled company with cutting-edge output from their Commodore 64s, Spectrums and Amiga 1000s. But do some Google homework and you’ll discover this was the beginnings of Rockstar North, which went on to become part of Rockstar Games, which has just knocked out Red Dead Redemption 2. Quite a story.
You’re probably thinking: what has all this got to with advertising? Well, it’s more about geography. Specifically, the geography of creativity. To kick off, a disclaimer: this is not a broadside from the chilly north; the last thing I want to do is get into identity politics on a national basis (we’ve had a bellyful of late). So, I’ll remove the fried potato from my shoulder. No, I want to make quite the opposite point: the fact that creative hubs transcend national stereotypes.
Get beyond the orthodoxy that sees some postcodes revered and others ignored when it comes to creativity and you’ll discover a world rich in talent across film, art, writing, music, thinking… and advertising. Marketing-wise, great things have come out of places such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Singapore and Melbourne in recent years. To that list, add Scotland.
Truth is, with the right talent in the right place at the right time, you can do great things (no matter where you are on the map). Take the late great Charlie Robertson. The work he was producing during his time at Leith was legendary. OK, so he was working with Dougal Wilson and Gerry Farrell, meaning quality was guaranteed, you could say, but this is not just the stuff of memory lane. It’s happening right here, right now, right across Scotland.
Take Innis & Gunn. No, literally take it – or rather "borrow" one of the thousand glasses lifted in The Big Pinch, a social stunt by Edinburgh’s Studio Something. Leave a vanload of Innis & Gunn’s famous (and much nicked) tattoo-design pint glasses in the centre of Edinburgh, open the back doors, train a camera on it and get 500,000 people watching online as 1000 glasses go in 32 minutes. Stroke of genius. Worked a treat. And, guess what, it was made here in Scotland. Truth 1-Preconceptions 0.
Another drink for the road? Why not. And what could be more Scottish than… a Dominican rum. Brugal 1888, to be exact – a brand that’s doubled in size over two years, owned and managed by The Edrington Group based in tropical Glasgow and supported by Scottish agencies. They may have been three time zones away, but creativity travels. And if it comes here, we have talent to help it – witness the work that LS (Location Scotland) has done for leading international brands from Volvo to Vogue.
From global names to global problems. Unfortunately, hate doesn't respect borders; it can happen anywhere. That's why we're proud of Leith's recent hate-crime campaign for the Scottish government. It's putting down a marker for Scotland in more ways than one. The outdoor-led campaign saw us pen open letters to all those who would stoop to discriminate. Bold, uncompromising, ambitious and just damn good creative – qualities you can find anywhere if you look hard enough. Or simply look beyond the M25.
Maybe that myopia is homegrown. After all, George Clooney didn’t think twice about heading to Scotland to help promote homeless charity café Social Bite, with the story reaching 40 countries through Glasgow’s Frame PR. French gaming company Ubisoft wasn't fussed about using Edinburgh’s Stripe PR to promote its global hit Ghost Recon: Wildlands with a narco documentary film that has since notched up a Pencil, a Clio and a Lion. Heinz didn’t check it was OK to work on a major sales promo with Multiply because it's from Scotland.
I could go on. But why bother? If you’re curious enough – a prerequisite for anyone working in the creative industries – you’ll explore what Scotland has to offer for yourself. If you do, you’ll find we’re in rude health (25% of The Marketing Society’s members are based in Scotland). And then you’ll act. Because, as a great adman with proud Scottish roots once said: "Leaders grasp nettles." In this case, Mr Ogilvy, we think it’s probably more a case of grasping the thistle, but botanicals aside we rest our case.
Colin Montgomery is a senior copywriter at Leith