The view from Scotland

Issue 15 | June 2010

Production Team

- Dave Mullen

Budgets  – make ‘em mean… keep em’ keen.

Don’t talk to me about budget deficits, I’ve been having mine squeezed for years. It’s the price you pay for working in the ‘regions’ or, rather, it’s the price that clients are prepared to pay. I have lived in Scotland and worked with brands north of the M25 most of my career. But operating outside the main creative hub of London brings its own set of challenges ­­– clients expect more for less. Working with a budget that is ‘tighter than a gnat’s chuff’ as they say here, generally requires the campaign to work harder and likewise the agencies. In Scotland you can’t be just a direct marketing agency if you have any ambition. The market is too small to keep a good agency busy. To prosper here, the creative agencies have had to look outside their immediate borders, be  multi-taskers, be generalists not specialists, be lean and be constantly hungry.


Let me put forward this hypothesis. Accepting for a minute that if you’re reading Directory you are interested in doing groundbreaking work, you’re probably also the type of person that will accept that 90% of great ideas will be rejected simply because there isn’t the appetite in the market to do challenging work. As Paul Arden says, ‘an idea that is not taken up and used as a solution to a problem has no value. It becomes a non idea.’ So we all present what in our experience the client will ‘buy’.  Important word.

The Paradox. You can afford to be more creative with less money.

So here’s a thought… if the price is smaller, conversely, the client’s willingness to buy is greater. It’s true. And here’s another truth. Creative people flourish when times are tough, artists, musicians; they all tend to do their best stuff when they’re skint. When you’ve got a few bob in your pocket, you don’t have to work so hard. It’s the same in marketing. Some of the most challenging ideas are done on a shoestring. With no lavish production values to hide behind, the idea has to be bold and confident enough to stand there naked.

Lower budget work doesn’t seem to attract the same levels of suffocating scrutiny that can smother an idea. Taking out the money takes out the risk. Clients are more forgiving and willing to take chances and do something more creative. Low budget work is less likely to invite interference from the CEO or attention from procurement. And no interference means no compromised concepts.


Necessity is the mother of invention, and here’s an imaginative example of how one can take on Mother Nature… and win! In Scotland we have the ferocious midge, this little pest is the size of a pinhead but it will bleed you dry if she (it’s the girls that bite) gets her teeth into you. It has been estimated that midges cost the Scottish tourist industry about £286 million a year in lost revenue – a study found that 49 per cent of tourists said they would not return to Scotland during the midge season, which runs from April to late August. This little lady is a problem, but there is a solution. There is a product called Smidge that is very effective at deterring these little bleeders. But the people at APS (Advanced Pest Solutions), wanting to sell their brilliant product, had a problem. Their budget was tinier than a midge’s molars. With no cash to splash on advertising, they had a big idea – ‘The Midgecast’. Like a weather forecast, the Midgecast predicts on a map of the country how intense the insects will be, ranks the area in terms of intensity 1-5 and thus provides a service to Scotland. Last year Scottish TV broadcast the forecast regularly in thepeak biting season, reaching an audience of over a million TV viewers. This year it will be available as an iphone app from

More Buzzy things on shoestrings… or threads even.

I’m not a huge fan of guerilla marketing mainly because most of it is rarely seen by the public. I like advertising to be viewed and loved by more than by the awards jury. But here’s a guerilla campaign that flies in the face of that argument by harnessing a little insect power. At the Frankfurt book fair, a German publisher called Eichborn had this idea. They attached tiny red Eichborn banners by threads to flies. And then set them free to flutter around the fair carrying their little messages on the wing and landing on their unsuspecting audience. Personally, I wouldn’t hurt a fly, but Eichborn assures us the beasties were not harmed as the thread was attached by wax that melted away leaving the little critters to fly away. If that is the case it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, excuse me; I think your flies are undone.

‘Buzz’ is the latest online buzzword.  We’re all having our ‘brand mentions’ measured daily. And the web really is where the traditional values of direct marketing shine. Now we have pixels to play with, it all just got a lot more interesting.

Online, big budgets don’t have to be important. The conventional carpet-bombing methods and conspicuous wealth that work in traditional media to create aspiration and impact aren’t so effective when a few well-targeted blogs or a viral can deliver a million plus hits. The ‘Terrorist’ viral hoax for VW Polo at 22 million hits or Subservient Chicken at over 385 million hits immediately spring to mind. The web is the great leveler. Like the mighty River Ganges, rich man, poor man, everyone bathes in the same water.

This idea by Indian agency, Dentsu Marcom Pvt Ltd for HOPE Worldwide’s Slum Children Education Programme is an example of not just low budget, but no budget. They created something out of nothing.

The idea was based on a simple thought that ‘An old book is new to people who haven’t read it.’ So they packaged old used books in cellophane wrappers exactly like new ones. The books were placed among the new books in about 50 popular bookshops in Delhi. On stumbling upon the old books every reader was greeted with an inspiring message that urged him to donate his old books. In a couple of months they had 30,000 books at their disposal and 8,000 hits on the website in a few days.

“What’s the big idea?” she said… probably.

One final thought, there is a modern myth that Picasso was once asked by a wealthy socialite to sketch her at a luncheon. In a few strokes her image was captured on a napkin for eternity. ‘How much?’ she said. ‘$50,000’ says Pablo. ‘But it only took a few seconds?’ the lady splutters. ‘No, madam, it took a lifetime’ he replies.

And the moral of the story? Next time you sketch an idea on the back of a fag packet for a client, bill them fifty grand.

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