LBB’s Laura Swinton shares her pick of edgy and iconic ads from the Scottish soft drink
Thrawn. It means crooked or distorted, but when applied to people it means stubborn, obstinate and recalcitrant. It’s a guid Scots word and captures something special about the success of the nuclear orange soft drink Irn-Bru. It describes the gleefully perverse pride Scots feel about the bubblegum and pepper beverage. When we’re not reminding people about all the things we invented, one of our favourite (possibly apocryphal) stats is that Scotland is one of the few places in the world where Coca-Cola is not the best selling soft drink. Even if you don’t like it, you’re going to buy it, just to stick the vs up.
So Irn-Bru’s advertising and brand building has historically embraced that sentiment. Think about everything that defines Coca-Cola’s advertising - togetherness, wholesomeness, and a slick corporate universality - and then turn around and head 100 light years in the opposite direction. You’ve arrived on planet Irn-Bru. And that’s not casual speculation - head back to the hazy days of the early 90s and they demolished every cheesy American soft drink ad cliche going.
There’s a lot to choose from within its archive of wanton anarchy - but here are my five favourites (with some spicy extras thrown in).
If there’s one word that proves George Bernard Shaw’s adage that ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’, it’s ‘fanny’. But if there’s a language gap across the Atlantic, it becomes a chasm across Hadrian’s Wall. As a Scot who has lived in England for nearly two decades, I’ve never heard ‘fanny’ wielded with such artistry or frequency in England as I have in Scotland.
Talking of fannies… this wasn’t the first time Irn-Bru, err, turned lady bits into a marketing platform. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcXTZhzzm-Y
Edgy, punky and confrontational, at first glance Irn-Bru might look like a brand that’s reinvented itself across different waves of youth culture - but some of its best ads feel like a call to arms for badly behaved oldies. 1999’s Grandad, directed by Simon Eakhurst and produced by Rogue, sees an old fella make the most of his dentures - and conjures warmly nostalgic body horror. A few years later they followed up with an equally anti-social granny, terrorising the local supermarket with her mobility scooter. Later, in 2012, Irn-Bru even brought together an older cast and encouraged them to get as near to sweary as possible, and in 2018 one old folks home resident urged us all 'don't be a can't'. Ahem.
He Was a Good Dog…
In the late ‘90s, Irn-Bru was on a mission to get cancelled before being cancelled was a thing. I have vivid memories of this series of controversial outdoor ads peppering the streets of Edinburgh and inspiring outraged articles in local newspapers (ah, the pre-Twitterstorm days). They make me feel weirdly nostalgic for a very specific time and place - namely sitting in the back of my parents' car as they trailed the backstreets for a parking space. It's hard to pinpoint the most controversial in this campaign. Was it the image of the old, tweed-wearing gent in his baronial manor sitting next to two labradors alongside the line 'I love Irn-Bru and so do my bitches'? Or was it the cow accompanied by the line 'when I'm a burger, I want to be washed down with Irn-Bru', which was 1999's most complained about ad. I'm apparently playing it safe and opting for a poster featuring an old lady cooking her dog.
Fun fact… the copywriter was none other than one Dougal Wilson..
Move over Aled Jones. Last up we have Irn-Bru at its most beautifully crafted - a hand drawn parody of the classic Christmas tale the Snowman. Seeing Scottish landmarks like the Forth Rail Bridge, Loch Ness and Eilean Donan Castle rendered with such care means that the ad holds a special place in many Scots’ hearts - but of course, Irn-Bru wouldn’t be Irn-Bru if it followed the sincerely heartfelt fuzzy-wuzzy playbook of the traditional Christmas ad.