About AEF | Newsletter | Site Map | Legal | Advanced Search
Print Version

Current Issues in Irish Advertising

Ireland occupies a unique place in the history of the global economy. The power of the Irish economy in the last twenty years has earned it the nickname "Celtic Tiger," yet Ireland has only relatively recently emerged from a traditional, and often impoverished, agricultural base. Having been under British rule until well into the 20th century and, as a consequence, having arrived in the postwar period significantly behind the curve in terms of industrial development, Ireland had, in many ways, more in common with the recently independent former colonies in Asia and Africa than with the United States, Canada, and Australia. Ireland's poverty made it unattractive as an immigration destination and its strong Catholic identity perpetuated the native population's homogeneity. However, particularly as a consequence of EU membership, the Ireland of the late 20th and early 21st century has grown and opened up rapidly—and as a result now struggles with a peculiarly intense set of cultural contradictions as well as a crisis of ethnic identity. The works in this issue have been selected as a series of investigations into the ways that the forms and practices of Irish advertising reflect this special history.

We open with a chapter reprinted from John Fanning's Book, The Importance of Being Branded: An Irish Perspective. Fanning has been a leading figure in Irish advertising for more than thirty years. He has long been a top executive at one of the largest and oldest Irish agencies, McConnell's Advertising, and therefore has also worked on a number of distinctively Irish brands, several of which will be mentioned in the other articles in this issue. Fanning also lectures on marketing at Trinity University in Dublin and has often been involved in efforts, such as the Irish Tourism campaign, that must directly confront questions about representing Irishness with both traditional and contemporary images. Fanning is a well respected thinker in the Irish advertising and marketing community and his book makes excellent use of the thinking of one of the most advanced scholars in marketing, Douglas B. Holt. Consequently, I felt Fanning's viewpoint on the cultural contradictions that haunt Ireland today would provide a good opening framework for the other works in this issue.

The Fanning chapter is followed by an interview with Harry Bradshaw, today a respected historian of both music and media in Ireland. Harry became a radio producer for the national station in Ireland during the late 1960s and spent much of his career researching, recording, and producing local music for radio consumption. In the past decade, he has become a leading figure in the move to archive and exhibit both the media and musical history of Ireland. In this interview, Harry describes the unique history of Irish media, with special emphasis on the interaction between commerce and the state in the evolution of sponsored programming and the import of popular music.

The third piece, "A Fateful Triangle? Tales of Art, Commerce, and Science from the Irish Advertising Field," Aidan Kelly, Katrina Lawlor, and Stephanie O'Donohoe draw from their ethnographic work among contemporary Irish agencies, describing a philosophical struggle that will be all too familiar to American readers, but with a interesting Irish twist. Agencies in Ireland, like many advertising companies around the world, have inherited the tension between "scientific" approaches to advertising and more "artistic" or "creative" philosophies, apparently through contagion from their American counterparts. Though the Irish tradition in persuasion is long and well-established, it runs more to storytelling, humor, and song than to the bulleted copy point mentality of the Unique Selling Proposition. Yet the long-standing struggle between the conventions of the rational sell and the disruptions of creativity has nevertheless been grafted onto Irish advertising practice. Despite the lack of evidentiary support for the effectiveness indicators that underpin this struggle, the suits-versus-creative opposition so familiar in American history now battles anew in the home of the Blarney Stone.

In the final piece, "'Liquid Modernity' and Irish Identity: Irishness in Guinness, Jameson, and Ballygowan Advertisements," Carmen Kuhling looks at the campaigns for three quintessential Irish beverages—Ballygowan, Guinness, and Jameson's—for they way they reflect national identity under the conditions of "liquid modernity" that typify today's Ireland. Kuhling, often pointing to the same kinds of contradictions identified by Fanning, shows how these campaigns each address the representation of Irishness and how they either ignore or confront the changing profile of Ireland's citizens. Though traditional imagery and stories abound in contemporary Irish advertising, Kuhling points to the shifting ground of Irish national identity under the influence of immense inmigration and shows how fresher and more open Irish advertising deals with the changes in a more direct way.

From the sum of these works, readers will, I hope, get a sense of the way the Irish advertising community works within their own traditions, trying to find a distinctively Irish voice for their commercial speech, while at the same time struggling with a fifty-year-old standoff borrowed from the United States as well as with the paradoxes brought by prosperity and migration from the European Union. The final picture is a distinctively postmodern one, a true thumbprint of commercial communications in today's global economy.

Linda M. Scott