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Creative is Native: How to turn Ireland’s rich storytelling heritage into advertising gold

The Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland’s Creative is Native initiative wants a larger slice of London’s agency action, writes Dave Winterlich, chief strategy officer at Dentsu

The advertising industry is too often portrayed in Hollywood movies, and popular culture, as an industry with smooth talking and even smoother tailoring. It’s a superficial world where the protagonist is a (usually) likable but ultimately flawed con man who, in most storylines, eventually resists the gravitational pull towards dishonesty, or suffers a humbling fall from grace. It’s very easy to dislike advertising as a profession, partly because society today seems more “advertising woke” and few admit they are influenced by it. Society collectively agrees on the potential harms of advertising while simultaneously and blissfully believing advertising only works on those poor unsuspecting “other people”. We seem to have both individual immunity and collective gullibility to its charms.

Advertising doesn’t work if it is a lie. It may boost immediate sales, but it is commercial suicide in the longer term to make wrongful claims. What advertising does well — when it is at its best — is when it finds brilliantly creative ways to raise a brand’s consciousness in the minds of an apathetic audience.

Sometimes campaigns transcend their category and leave a lasting mark on culture.

BBH’s famous 1986 launderette campaign for Levi’s 501s, created by Sir John Hegarty, unintentionally created an entirely new category in men’s underwear, boxer shorts, launched the career of Nick Kamen, and gave Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine a new lease of life in the music charts.

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It also turned around the fortunes of the ailing jeans manufacturer — shifting Levi’s from being a dad brand to one of the coolest labels on the planet.

And, sometimes, the unintended consequences of advertising’s cultural influence are less than positive. If you have ever “been tangoed”, you will know what I mean.

But in a world of product homogeneity and lower barriers to entry, creativity is the last true unfair advantage for most companies. Marketing science specialist Prof Byron Sharp, talks a lot about this in his book How Brands Grow.

It’s unrealistic to think your product can be truly differentiated, but what marketing can control is how to be distinctive.

It’s only a generation ago that the industrial mindset was deeply ingrained in our psyche — the idea that manufacturing productivity trumped design and the factory floor was the great product domain. Today, as Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, explains, “while products may be created on the factory floor, value is created in the mind”.

Today’s reality is that products and services are fast and easy to copy, markets are easier to enter, and unique selling propositions (USPs) are rarely unique.

If you were to assign the same thinking to a country as to a product, and consider its perceived USPs, how would it be promoted?

There is no doubt that creativity is deeply rooted in the Irish DNA. Our heritage is rich in storytelling, poetry, music and literature. So, if the best advertising finds itself in the truth, then it seems obvious to ask why, when we promote Ireland abroad, do we not promote Ireland as a nation rich in creative talent, a land where creative is native?

That’s the thinking of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI). To pitch ourselves as a haven for commercial creativity, or creativity more broadly.

It’s not just promoting Irish people, it’s about promoting Ireland as a place of creative inspiration, a land rich in folklore, where, once visited, one cannot help but feel inspired.

London has always been a centre of excellence for business and advertising globally; why not Ireland, particularly post-Brexit? Germany owns manufacturing, Switzerland owns luxury goods, Italy owns design and France owns fashion, so why should Ireland not position itself as Europe’s centre of excellence in commercial creativity?

Currently we pitch ourselves as a nation rich in technological intellectual capital, the marketing equivalent of a new pack design to lift falling sales. This “rebrand” has been fruitful in attracting foreign direct investment and tax breaks, and Barrow Street’s regeneration is truly impressive.

But what happens when our so-called competitive advantage is eroded, when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the truth? Big tech will simply set up shop somewhere else. Somewhere where the labour force is equally well educated but more affordable, office space is more abundant (or not needed at all) and where better tax incentives and margins can offer investor boards that mythical eternal growth.

The IAPI’s launching of the “Ireland, where creative is native” initiative is commendable, as is some of the work of agencies such as Droga5 Ireland, formerly Rothco, Boys + Girls and The Public House, who have put Ireland on the map internationally for their creative work.

Despite IAPI reaching out, it is disappointing to hear that our Government has offered neither support nor even an interested ear to this initiative, although it is happy to support plenty of other sectors under its Irish Advantage platform.

With or without Government support, IAPI has big ambitions to support and promote Ireland as a land of commercial creativity, and has London firmly in its sights.

While any promotional campaign may be cheeky and playfully executed, with an irreverent tone, the opportunity to position Ireland as a centre of commercial creativity is a serious one.

Watch out London — the Irish are coming and we’re looking to dethrone you as Europe’s advertising capital.

Is creative native to you? Enter our competition

The Irish Times and IAPI are looking for people who have a big idea they have always wanted to bring to reality. You probably don’t work in a creative industry, but you are the kind of person for whom creativity is in no short supply.

We want you to create a print ad that could run both in print and digital, speaks to the people of Ireland in a way that will make them aware and proud of the creativity the nation’s talent has to offer, and showcases how this island is the ultimate inspiration for creativity.

For more information on how to enter visit iapi.ie/create

To hear more check out the Inside Marketing podcast