Friday, 17 August 2012

Buy Me Maybe? Differences between UK and USA advertising

The British stereotype is of reserved underwhelm and understatement. Americans are used to directness and hyperbole. These two different cultures result in entirely different advertising styles. British adverts are far more likely to tell you not to buy a product, whereas US commercials are much more like a Carly Rae Jepsen parody on a sugar high: Hey, this is crazy, but buy me maybe?

Because Brits are so reluctant to be direct, British ads have to be creative. Kate Fox writes a funny-coz-it's-true account of TV advertising in the UK:
The humorist George Mikes claimed in 1960 that 'All advertisements - particularly television advertisements - are utterly and hopelessly un-English. They are too outspoken, too definite, too boastful.' … the English should evolve their own style of advertising, recommending, 'Try your luck on Bumpex Fruit Juice. Most people detest it. You may be an exception.'
Kate Fox points out that 30 years later this advert actually happened in the UK: I hate Marmite

I love Marmite, and also loved this advertising campaign. It was a talking point - do you love or hate Marmite - which is exactly what an advertising company hopes to achieve!

I saw a similar billboard on the London Underground during my trip to the Olympics last week. It was British Airways urging people not to fly: Don't Fly, they said, stay at home and support Team GB. It was another perfect example of Brits using their indirectness, their awkwardness with pushy boasting and brash marketing, to create a talking point. Of course it wasn't altruism on BA's part. I reckon most folks flying to escape the Olympics may have opted for a budget airline, not BA. So rather than killing their own business, BA probably affected their competitors' business, if at all.

Incidentally, the article I linked stated that BA predicted they'd get a lot of business from expats travelling back to London. Sorry BA, I travelled with someone else, but your adverts were better.

BA were an official Olympic sponsor. I know this because their billboards peppered the London tube, along with others from other official sponsors. I had read and heard endless criticism of the commercialization of the Games, which limited choice in Olympic park. I didn't visit Olympic Park, and while I can't disagree, I was struck by something interesting at the other venues I did visit: There was very little advertising at all.

I checked back on footage from previous Olympics (okay, Barcelona '92 and Salt Lake City '02) as London was the first I'd been to, and it wasn't an anomaly. It was, I have to say, nice to wander around the venues and enjoy the sports without constantly being reminded who had helped pay for them. Outside of the arenas, and mostly in the tube stations, the billboards were witty and fun and made me feel back at home - including Marks and Spencer saying "On your Marks for Autumn". Oh M & S, bastion of British sensibilities and sensible underwear.

USA advertising is far more in-yer-face to appeal to that direct and hyperbolic US culture. I've written about it before: American ads pretty much all say "you need this product. Go buy it!" And the majority of commercials seem to be for drugs, poptarts, erectile dysfunction, and diabetes. It's a disconcerting combination of messages to receive during a short ad break.

By 'drugs' I don't mean anything illicit, obviously, but I don't mean over the counter stuff either. I mean prescription medication. "Ask your doctor for XYZ" - it's noticeable to Brits purely because of the different natures of the UK and US healthcare systems. And then there's diabetes.

This map states that prevalence of diabetes in the USA is over 10%, while in the UK it's almost 7%. But I'd love to know what percentage of US commercials relate to diabetes products.

My absolute favorite US commercial right now is for something called Accu-chek Nano. This jingle is the summer pop hit of 2012. You thought it was Call Me Maybe? Nope, you are far off the mark. When I first saw it, I thought it was for a mobile phone for girls. It's not. It's a blood checker for those with diabetes.


This jingle is something else entirely. How a commercial for a diabetes product can be so un-ironically saccharine, I don't know, but it's oh so catchy and moreish. You've listened to it twice already now haven't you? You're resisting the urge to get up and dance. The only thing it's comparable to is the equally girly I love Horses advert that used to hit British screens every New Year:


 I'm not the only one who has noticed this amazing jingle. And, in a twist of the strange, it was even used as the soundtrack for a flash mob at the American Association of Diabetes Educators conference.

They really are trying to cash in on the whole Call Me Maybe vibe to attract a target audience. And that's okay by me. If anyone could actually do an Accu-chek Jepsen jingle remix, I'll send them a whole bunch of candy (irony intended).

Once every year the American population tunes in to the Superbowl, not to watch the sport, but to watch the heralded Superbowl commercials, and to see commercials done properly. Why advertisers can't do that all year round I don't know, and I haven't even gotten round to mentioning Jos. A Bank yet … Put simply, Jos. A Bank is American directness at its finest, and this Brit finds it hilarious.

Have you secretly danced to the Accu-chek Nano jingle? What's your favorite/least favorite commercial? Do you like Marmite? Have you ever actually bought a suit from Jos. A Bank, and if so, what came free?

1 comment:

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