Think Hard in Toronto

I’m here in Toronto on a creative industries Trade Mission from Edinburgh in my capacity as Chair of Creative Edinburgh

Day One

We arrived on Saturday evening about 10pm after a gruelling 19 hours of travel and spent Sunday acclimatising to the city, maybe recovering would be a better word. On our way in to the City (we’re staying downtown in a good Hilton Garden Inn on Dundas West and Jarvis) I was particularly taken by the cinematic feel of the literally hundreds of condominiums ranging from 10 to 80 stories in the centre. The effect of their almost universal floor to ceiling glass windows all lit slightly differently was kind of cinematic. it just needed a soundtrack from Mogwaii or maybe Brian Eno to create a really special effect. It transpires that there are a further 135 Condo’s under construction right now in what effectively amounts to a boom town. Head of Economic Development, Ron Wandell was to tell us on Monday that in fact there are 185 fixed cranes in operation right now in the city. A fact he followed up triumphantly but unsourced with the claim that that’s more than in the rest of North America combined. Seems quite a brave claim to me, and to one of my sternest critics, Chris Miller, who poo poo-ed it on Twitter. I will try to find a way of substantiating it though.

Day Two

Back to the diary. On Sunday I arose early and headed by foot in -8 degree dry weather to the iconic CN tower that for over twenty years stood as the tallest unsupported tower in the world, higher than the likes of The Empire State Building. Great views ensued from a deserted observation deck and a mind-blowing experience was trying, and failing to stand on the glass floor. Such a powerful optical effect.

The rest of the day was taken up with touring by foot the Downtown part of the city whilst meeting my old pal from The Leith agency, Andrew Horberry who lives here and works in Detroit with Imagination. It was great to see him and we whiled away a very pleasant couple of hours in the charming Queen Mother on Queens West. Andrew showed me the PATH a 16 mile complex of underground streets that link the city through very discrete entrances, typically in tall buildings and public buildings.

By the end of the day I was really taken with Toronto’s sense of ambition, it’s growth – already the fourth largest City in North America with 2.7m in its city boundaries and nearly 6m in Greater Toronto. We met Greg Bauer from Authenticity for dinner in a great little French Bistro call Le Select Bistro on Wellington Street. Very good, and my first chance to Try out bone marrow. Literally a cow’s thigh bone sawn open roasted and dropped on a plate with some salt and nothing more.
Day Three
Our first official “work day” We met with a delegation from The Toronto City Council Department of Development and Culture (an interesting combination of roles) and one which signified the importance the city places on all things cultural, including its huge Creative Industries sector.

My moment of the day was when the screen industries head was introduced. Possessing the ultimate grafting together of North American and Scottish nomenclature he’s called Randy McLean and he’s grrreeeat.

Our speakers were inspiring in that they clearly had total belief in their city, one which is turning heads globally in all manner of ways including quality of life. I was particularly taken with the theme of diversity that peppered the presentation – a word used in the city motto and represented in not just its architecture and wide spread of industries but in its ethnicity. The council has to produce communications materials in over 100 languages to cope with a population where over 50% are born (not ancestored – actually born) outside of Canada. Nowhere on earth has this scale and breadth of multiethnic civilians and they’re growing by something like 50,000 every year. Hence the new condo’s.

Randy’s most interesting insight into the economic strategy is that it is designed to create “random collisions”. By encouraging collegiate thinking (something very close to my and Creative Edinburgh’s hearts) networking amongst peers and related industries creates unexpected outcomes and meetings of minds between technical, creative and scientific minds. Edinburgh can learn a lot from that. After the long meeting (7 hours) we were given a guided tour of Totonto’s unusual 60’s built City Hall and were fortunate enough to meet outspoken and controversial Mayor Rob Ford’s very amusing Scot’s bred assistant who gave us a tour of the mayoral office.

The day finished in classic Scottish style. A massive Chinese feast at an outstanding chinese restaurant on Spadina in Toronto’s modestly sized and unspectacular China town. Modest in scale perhaps but not in quality, quantity or value.

I should share with you who’s on the trip. fellow board member and Professor at Napier University, Robin MacPherson, one of Creative Edinburgh’s Directors Janine Matheson, CEC Economic Development guru Jim Galloway, Kate Ho of Tiger Games, Dave Sapien of Me and the Giants, Stuart MacDougal of Pufferfish, Mike Stevenson of Thinktastic, Jim Rae of Elevate UK and David Calder of The Caledonian Mercury amongst other things. It’s been a fascinating start with some great people and I look forward to sharing the rest of the tales with you as they unfold.

20 of the best

This is the presentation I’ve been making about great advertising. It’s only my personal opinion but I’ve chosen to share my views on what makes for 20 of the most interesting ads/campaigns and commercials that I could lay my hands on and these are they…

The Avis campaign is 40 years old now and was created by the peerless DDB. Surely no agency (and one man in particular, Bill Bernbach) has made a greater impact on the history of advertising.


This is a wonderful example of both a great strategic insight and a brilliant execution in the world of social marketing.

This is best ad I’ve seen this year. In a sector where you’d least expect to see creative genius it’s a revelation.

Is this the most talked about ad ever? It’s a great example of Picasso’s view that bad artist’s copy, good arists steal. Show me the truly great creative that has no love of music, film and art and I will buy you a Picasso.

I loathe this ad. It is vacuous and is a true case of style over substance…

My all time favourite political poster is this one, done by Yellow M in Edinburgh.


The Ology ad, part of the long running Maureen Lipman campaign for BT is just brilliant populist TV that demonstrates the wonder of the telephone call.

This is a great leap of thought and my favourite VW ad in a long line of great ads…

And this is it in English!!!

This is another great VW ad with an amazing tone of voice..

Scotland’s greatest ever commercial? I think so.

One I was involved with myself. For Gold Bier, God knows how I gotr away with it…

This ‘ad’ has swept the boards at this year’s award ceremonies and rightly so, and it wasn’t even done by an ad agency.


Apple Mac 1984. What can you say. Brilliant. That’s what you can say…

But I actually prefer this as it captures the user’s values far better…

And see how brilliantly it has been spoofed here. That is the sign of greatness in advertising.

Alka Seltzer ran quite stunning demonstration advertising in the 1960’s, again with a fantastic tone of voice.

A great insight into defining your audience and creating empathy is seen in this wonderful Levy’s Rye bread campaign (yet again, I think, by DDB)




The recent Dove ‘Evolution’ campaign is a wonderfully empathetic campaign that eschewes the traditions of beauty advertising in favour of promoting its benefits to real women…

And this is magnificently planted in the mind of the target audience. Utter empathy. Utter brilliance.


And finally, the Blackcurrant Tango ad is another great tone of voice commercial.

And finally, finally. A momentary lapse of judgement. A 1576 house ad from the 90’s.