Advertising: US vs. UK

Advertising: US vs. UK

The British Independent newspaper has an entertaining article that compares the US and UK's advertising industries. Here are some of the highlights:British admen learn fast in America. They learn that...

Guy Brighton
  • 7 december 2004

The British Independent newspaper has an entertaining article that compares the US and UK’s advertising industries. Here are some of the highlights:

British admen learn fast in America. They learn that advertising’s an altogether different game, not just a vastly bigger one – actually not a game at all, nor a branch of arts and entertainment, but a business, almost as mainstream as, say, accountancy.


Viewed from commercial America, British advertising looks like something bent out of shape by a culture so consumed with embarrassment it can’t look a salesman in the eye when he’s making a pitch, particularly if that pitch is laden shoulder high with emotion – love of country, family or God. From a mainstream US perspective our quirky elliptical leave-them-guessing advertising approach is kind of charming, but kind of unworkable too in America, with its fragmented audiences and ethnicities, its raging sensitivities and, above all, its huge risks. American advertising is risk averse because there’s so much at stake with those huge clients and their mega-spends. It means everything is researched to death so all backs are covered.


The style and culture of advertising agencies themselves – and particularly the giant Madison Avenue houses – are very different too. There’s size for a start. A major like Ogilvy and Mather will have 3,000-plus people working in its New York office. At that scale the whole thing has to be run in a very grown-up way, and the "suits" (client handlers) dress very sensibly indeed. It’s more … businesslike. Everything seems older too. The big agencies have senior statesmen who are practically Blake Carrington, whereas we know that in London agencies the over-50s are quietly defenestrated in favour of children with spiked hair and drop-crotch jeans.


In Britain, advertising and its people are socially smart in the wider world in direct ratio to their distance from hard selling and their resemblance to the arts and entertainment. And advertising people definitely take their place in our great world.

In America, advertising isn’t that socially glamorous – they’ve got Hollywood after all – and its practitioners aren’t so famous, but they make millions and it’s an acceptable career choice for a decent MBA graduate who thinks creativity is something best left to window-dressers.

UK’s Independent

+fashion / apparel

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