Commercial breaks are usually a pain, but great ads can tell a story as well as any TV show they intrude on, finds Ray Philp

Adverts are, for the most part, a pain. They’re an intrusion on our favourite programmes; a 30 second-long barrier to a cat video; a strobing banner insisting that you’ve won something (probably a headache). But sometimes, we pay attention. Occasionally, we even enjoy them. Most adverts are content to tell us that Brand X is the best you can get; they tend to be more successful when they explain what Brand X represents. These Scottish firms have understood that better than anybody, which is why their adverts have left a trace of themselves long after they’ve faded from TV schedules and news feeds.

Irn-Bru

Irn-Bru adverts have a lot of appeal. They’re straight-talking, brazen, and Scottish to the core. Sometimes, they’ve pushed the boundaries of good taste, but most people like a chancer. There are many ads that stick out, but an advert from the ‘80s blazed a trail for the rest. Playing on the tag-line “made in Scotland from girders”, it spoofed American cinema cliches while suggesting that drinking Irn-Bru could make you as strong as the metal it was made from. Other campaigns have been a success, too – The Snowman advert put a Scottish twist on a classic tale, and Irn-Bru’s elderly protagonists have inspired some of the biggest laughs.

Tennent’s

Like Irn-Bru, Tennent’s presents itself as a maverick, but the act hasn’t been quite as convincing. Tennent’s ads have traded on the same sort of irreverent humour as the AG Barr soft drink—its masochist/sadist/chauvinist/feminist series was particularly good—but it’s telling that its most memorable campaign was a shamelessly sentimental ode to Scotland. The advert, which depicts a 30-something Scot’s increasing irritation with London life, was soundtracked by a Frankie Miller cover of Caledonia, which, when broadcast, hadn’t even been recorded fully. The success of the advert prompted Miller to release a proper single, which narrowly missed the Top 40.

Scott’s Porage Oats

In ‘90s advertising, muscly heartthrobs were having a moment. Taking a lead from Diet Coke, Scott’s Porage Oats was sold on the premise that eating it would turn your torso into the Cistene Chapel and reduce surrounding women to pointing, quivering husks. Incidentally, the Scott’s Porage Oats ads were a big break for actor Rory McCann, who most recently starred in Game of Thrones until last year. As the foul-mouthed, soldier-chopping Sandor Clegane, he nailed the vibe of his Highland ancestry in a way that his coquettish turn as the Jay Scott-inspired porridge mascot did not.

The Famous Grouse

Gilbert the Grouse is pretty famous. He’s been the face of virtually every Famous Grouse advert, which has a simple, recurring theme: Gilbert, against a white backdrop, defies the odds with a sassy strut and a cock of the head as misadventures threaten to trip him up. He’s had everything thrown at him: temperamental weather, female admirers, the red carpet treatment. Unruffled, he remains. The music is equally straightforward yet memorable: each note of the Famous Grouse theme plays like a drop of whisky splashing on a marimba. It even sounds refreshing.

Baxters

Baxters was the “taste of Speyside”, but for decades it came from a more specific place: Ena Baxter’s kitchen. To say her recipes for soups were popular would be like saying the Pope has a bit of a following. That much was thanks to Ena herself, who chopped her vegetables, sprinkled her garnish, and stirred her pot in front of millions of television viewers, who saw her at work in her cupboard-sized kitchen over the years. Baxter died in January this year aged 90.

About The Author

Ray Philp has been at the Scotsman since 2011. Since then, he has written widely about music in magazines such as Red Bull Music Academy Magazine and Resident Advisor, and was a former editor and regular contributor at The Skinny magazine.

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