Former Leith advertising guru talks Irn-Bru's controversial 'Fanny' ad on BBC One Scotland documentary

Soft drinks producer AG Barr has become famous for its hilarious – and often controversial – campaigns for Scotland’s other national drink

Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 11:45 am

THE advertising guru who created some of Irn-Bru’s most iconic television ads, has revealed how AG Barr devised the “cliff of ok-ness” to prevent them from becoming too controversial.

Soft drinks producer AG Barr has become famous for its hilarious – and often controversial – campaigns for Scotland’s other national drink.

Gerry Farrell, the former creative director of the Leith Agency, said they were encouraged to go close to but not over a metaphorical cliff of ok-ness.

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Gerry Farrell, the former creative director of the Leith Agency, said they were encouraged to go close to but not over a metaphorical cliff of ok-ness.

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Speaking on “Selling Scotland”, a documentary looking at the nation’s most memorable adverts, to be shown on BBC One Scotland, Mr Farrell praises the attitude of the soft drink makers towards advertising – and reveals how they balanced on the right side of acceptable.

He said: “The great thing about AG Barr, who own Irn-Bru, is that they would step back from it.

“Sir Robin Barr, I had a chat with him once, and he said ‘personally I don’t really like some of the advertising that you make, but it’s not really aimed at a 90-year-old like me is it? You chaps seem to know what you’re doing so carry on.’

“The clients developed this thing called ‘the cliff of ok-ness’. So we were expected to push towards the edge of the cliff of ok-ness, but every so often it just went over the edge and they said ‘oh, you’ve fallen off the cliff of ok-ness’.”

Mr Farrell said Irn-Bru’s “Fanny” advert shown in 2012 was “right on the edge”, but enjoyed huge success due in part to a play on words.

Part of the “Irn-Bru gets you through” campaign, it showed a new father visiting his partner in hospital to be informed she is determined to call their baby Fanny.

As the dad relies on gulps of Irn-Bru to retain his composure, he is informed: “My mum was a Fanny, Granny was a Fanny... she’ll be joining a long line of Fannys.”

Mr Farrell, who left the Leith Agency in 2014, said: “One Monday morning, one of my best writers, Mark Davis, came in to work and he read me out a script. It was just a 30-second ad but it had the word fanny in it 12 times. By the time he finished telling me it I was howling with laughter and I knew that that would make everybody else in Scotland howl with laughter as well.

It was right on the edge of what was acceptable.

“The first two weeks it was online, it was the most viewed Youtube clip in the world for a couple of weeks.”

The hour-long documentary, presented by Scot Squad star Jack Docherty, highlights some of Irn-Bru’s most famous campaigns, from parodies of Coca Cola advertising in the 1990s to the

“Mobility scooter maverick” in 2000, which showed an elderly lady on a mobility scooter don a balaclava to ram raid her way into a supermarket for Irn-Bru.

Speaking on the programme, broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove says: “Irn Bru has this kind of unique place within Scottish society.

“If you look across the whole of western Europe, Scotland is the only place where Coca Cola is not the biggest soft drink – Irn-Bru is. Quite how it’s managed to navigate the entire politics of the advertising industry by telling the simple lie that it’s ‘made in Scotland from girders’, who

knows.”

Selling Scotland is on BBC One Scotland, tonight at 10pm