In reality, it doesn’t really matter how you took the 1983 launch of Glasgow’s marketing campaign, its popularity soon swept around the city, country and world, opening up a new image for a city that had lost its way.
John Struthers was the advertising mind behind the campaign although you would be forgiven for thinking that Dr Michael Kelly, the Lord Provost at the time, was wholly responsible for the campaign. This was due to his insistence of being photographed beside Mr Happy and his perpetual knack of being quoted in the local media. As much as Dr Kelly was happy to promote the city, he certainly knew how to be a self-promotionalist too.
It’s interesting to know that a large part of the inspiration for the campaign came from the “I LOVE New York” campaign of 1977, a promotional tool that has managed to transcend a marketing campaign and has been ripped off all over the world since.
The Glasgow campaign was not quite the same, it used an existing character to spread its message and reach new people but the impact it has had on the city is comparable to the ubiquitous heart and letters combination which adorn t-shirts in every city these days.
Mr Happy was of course relocated from the popular Mr. Men series with creator Roger Hargreaves, a friend of Struthers, happy for his character to be used in the campaign.
The thought of transporting Mr Happy into Glasgow may have been met with bewilderment and confusion by some but the low-key launch paved the way for a huge revitalisation of the city. For those of a young age, it can be difficult to imagine the Glasgow of the 1960s, 70s and early 80s when given the current status and standing of the city but the outlook was bleak.
Traditional industries such as ship-building, steel making and engineering were dying a slow and painful death and the image of Glasgow was of a rough and dangerous place. The term ‘No Mean City’, referring back to the 1935 book by Alexander McArthur and H Kingsley Long focusing on the Gorbals area of the city, was still being used by many as an honest depiction of Glasgow city life.
No mere marketing campaign would have been enough to transform the city but in allowing the city and others to look at Glasgow with a fresh pair of eyes, Mr Happy and the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign worked better than most could have imagined.
Within five years of being launched, the 1988 International Garden Festival showed that Glasgow was blooming (ouch!) and a further two years later saw Glasgow’s reign as the European City of Culture. 1990 saw a year of events showcasing the new Glasgow and bringing tourists in from afar, leaving many with a very altered opinion of Glasgow.
The campaign was eventually phased out and replaced with ‘Glasgow’s Alive’ but any campaign was going to struggle after such a successful promotion. The Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign returned in 1994.