Will marketing be a winner or loser if Scotland votes Yes?

Scottish independence. The only uniting element on this issue is that everybody has an opinion. It’s only a matter of days before the crucial referendum vote on 18 September and it’s consuming media time, business time and brand strategy time.

Ruth Mortimer

You might be for a “yes” vote or you may think “no” is the right move. But while most of the coverage is about the economic impact, we at Marketing Week are understandably focused on the effect of the vote on brands. What does a “yes” vote mean for Scottish brands? What does it mean for British brands? And what does it mean for policy in areas such as advertising?

We already know that in a document produced last year to lay out its vision for an independent Scotland, the SNP has indicated that its approach to food standards will be linked with tax policy and advertising regulation, featuring the slightly ambiguous phrase: “…allowing a coherent and concerted approach” to issues of obesity and poor diet.

In other words, the SNP is opening up the possibility of further restrictions on the content and scheduling of advertising. We talk to the stakeholders – the Advertising Standards Authority, the Advertising Association and Ofcom – here. Brands and agencies could shortly face a new independent advertising standards body in Scotland, underpinned by a different political approach and motivation from the rest of the UK. Are brands ready to operate on this even more fragmented domestic scale?

It’s not only advertising that could be affected. Mark Ritson also takes a closer look at the impact of Scottish independence on brand image. He suggests that the impact could range from positive to “disastrous”, depending on the brand and its operations. In the case of brands that focus heavily on provenance, Ritson argues that the story of Scotland, independent once more of the union, has great romantic application. I would add that the brands that would benefit here are those that have the Scottish story but also fairly localised operating structures.

The opposite might be a brand like Royal Bank of Scotland. Yes, it has its roots in Scotland, but it exists in an international sphere of operation. One that needs connections to markets in London, New York and beyond. An operational sphere that must not be exposed to instability. It’s widely suggested the bank may be forced to move south if a “yes” vote goes ahead.

With recent polls putting the two sides on an equal footing, the future of Scotland is an unknown. Only one thing is sure – even if the vote is “no”, simply asking the question of Scotland’s independence may have changed how brands both north and south of the border operate forever.

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