Friday, December 14, 2007

British v American advertising

The 'Ad Of The Year' post uncovered an interesting phenomenon - the divergence between UK and US television commercials.

Commenter 'James' put it succinctly:

Good UK ads: No dialogue / acting. Good US ads: Great dialogue / acting. I think we have lost the art of how to write. We are an industry of art directors.

He could be onto something. Think about our best work this year - Gorilla, Cake, Smirnoff 'Sea' - all visual. You could add Bravia 'Bunnies', Sony 'Walkman project' and the Guinness and Stella ads too.

Meanwhile the best US work is dialogue-driven. The first ones that come to mind are Skittles, and the Little Lad who likes Berries & Cream, but there are many others.

Here's a darn funny 15-seconder I saw on AdRants:

And how do we execute the exact same proposition here in the UK?


Is it time to do dialogue again? You know, I think maybe it is.


Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Oh absolutely.
Everyone wanted quick and snappy, but now that is starting to get a bit overused.

Well done on your campaign entry in best blogs of 07.

Anonymous said...

well deserved win in campaign, but what about the pj tips adverts they had dialogue...

Anonymous said...

The art directors have long since taken over the asylum.

First day at St Martin's: One ad student says to the other, 'Last one to the marker pens is the copywriter'.

People have lost the skill of writing and even Scamp, who is a fucking good writer when he puts his mind to it, says we shouldn't write press ads. Chip away at the skill of copywriting in one place and soon the whole thing becomes unfashionable and unwanted.

Look through the One Show: many more headline/copy ads, many more dialogue commercials.

I know that the CD of one of London's best agencies despairs of this and thinks it's time for the return of copy/dialogue.

Personally, I think it's a skill that isn't really taught or developed here and that leads to a couple of knuckle-dragging ADs thinking that a picture-based solution is best (which actually means 'easiest' because they're too fucking thick to string a couple of words together and they think that Scamp's last post but one is sincere and not the piss-take it so obviously is). This leads to more picture-only solutions and the further death of the word.

Fuck off scowling ad's. You're dumbing the industry down.

Anonymous said...

The Uk can do great dialogue (John Smith´s, Orange Cinema stuff and the aforementioned PG Tips) it´s just that the ponces judging awards prefer arty farty stuff

Anonymous said...

I worked in America for quite a long time. When I got back people naturally would ask, "What's the difference between UK and US advertising?" to which I would reply, "The humour." And they would nod knowingly assuming that we were better at it than them. Wrong. They are way ahead of us in writing. And sure we have good examples of wit here like the John Smiths ads, but they are rare. In the States most decent writers can produce crisp acerbic writing and dialogue. Can the same be true of most creatives here? Not at the moment while everyone is busy chasing the ironic visual at the expense of the written word. You see the debate is bigger than whether words work on print ads or not - we're losing the desire to write. We're soon going to get sick of these vignetty sorts of commercials with things falling from the sky, or weird things happening to people while they are on their mobile to a Nouvelle Vague soundtrack, or people fixing balloons to their cars and then where will we be - flicking through the pages of the One Show saying, "why can't we do that?"

Anonymous said...

Have I got that specsavers ad right; A man is out dogging, gets more attention than he bargained for and just before he gets gangraped he somehow turns into a woman and the bummers aren’t interested anymore. Hat’s off to the account team for selling that in.

Anonymous said...

used to live in the, ahem, British Isles. live in the USA for years now.

IMHO, part of the problem i think is that too many of the UK TV ads strive to be cinematic. which isn't automatically a good idea. you're on TV. would you strive to make a cinema ad more like TV? no you wouldn't.

The best TV ads feel like TV. After all, that's what the viewer is sitting down to watch. another problem i see is that WAAAAAAY too many UK TV ads set out to be enigmatic and puzzling. eg, the old "why is this one thing happening over and over again?" formula, rather than getting stuck into a good story, and hooking the viewer, from the first frame.

but, having said that, that PG monkey puppet spot "return" was as good a humor/dialogue spot as you'll see anywhere. it was charming, fresh and a great ad for tea. why do i get the feeling it won't be rewarded by the UK ad community?

and there's way too much Cabral/budgen worship going on too btw. anyone of us who's even halfway good could do just as well if we got the creative opportunities they do. why does the UK ad community canonize people?

a few years ago it was Tom and Walt this, tom and walt that. tony kaye that.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

One thing that some agencies seem to miss is that if you don't have good writing then the visuals have to sell the entire story, not just the message. Not everyone is capable of doing that.

]-[appy Thought said...

I admit that the Specsavers at is style over substance and pretty confusing, but in the American example there is one line spoken by the acress and the actual thought behind the ad is spoken by a V/O.

One line is not dialogue! Thats a monolgoue! and a bloody short one.

I do however agree with the sentiment of the post, I love good dialogue and wish more ads were like a good bit of Oceans 13 or Firefly, the only thing I worry about using a lot of dialogue nowadays is having people care enough about your character to listen/ The PG tips chat between Al and Monkey is one of the best long ads of this year IMO, but if we didn't already know monkey and al would it have been so succeful? I think it would just have been random. And yes I know we get monkey and al from the On Digital ads from yesteryear, but would they have been such popular dialogue ads if we didn't know who Johnny Vegas was?

That said, I hope I get a chance to solve this porblem myself some time. If people are still watching TV the time I turn senior ;)

Anonymous said...

The other side of the argument is that US Art Direction is SHIT!

haze said...

I dunno. It seems to me like everyone's taking themselves too seriously these days. Just have fun and stop worrying about making the next masterpiece I say. In my short experience that's how you make a good ad.

Anonymous said...

i often thought that we do so much non dialogue stuff, cause many agencies are responsible for - or used to - making adds for europe and hence avoid the inconvenience of people talking.

Lunar BBDO said...

@ Happy thought.

'I love good dialogue and wish more ads were like a good bit of Oceans 13 or Firefly'.

Lordy. Please watch something decent and replace those references with All About Eve or The Apartment.

And to Anon 10.01:

Not all US art direction is shit. Check out the police recruitment ads that won at Canes this year.

Lunar BBDO said...

I meant Cannes, of course.

Scamp said...

I think that might just be my favourite Freudian slip of the year, Lunar

]-[appy Thought said...

No matter what I watch, I prefer to keep my references non-pretentious :)

Could have been worse, I could have said "anything by Quentin"

Anonymous said...

Lunar. No maybe it´s not all shit just as not all UK writing is either. But generally UK art directors can cane the arses of US art directors. I think the single biggest reason for this is that many (most) US art directors do their own mac work - and they´re just not very ggod at it and don´t leave themselves open to input from talented designers the way UK art directors do

john dodds said...

Does this mean that you'd also reconsider your post about copy (at least headlines) in press ads?

And why do so many commenters on this blog not have the courage of their convictions and hide behind anonymity?

Anonymous said...

because anonymity is cool. that's why.

Anonymous said...


"The PG tips chat between Al and Monkey is one of the best long ads of this year IMO, but if we didn't already know monkey and al would it have been so succeful? I think it would just have been random"


stop fretting. tv is executional first and foremost. too much UK TV is simply strategy put to film. stop doing that. it makes for dull viewing.

al and monkey is populist tv ad gold. in a way that gorilla could never be.

who directed it? who cares.

did it come from some other campaign? extra marks for having the balls to do that.

it's without a doubt the bravest and best UK TV ad of the year.

Scamp said...

@John Dodds -

interesting question. But I stand by my conviction that dialogue is a good thing in TV ads, while copy-led solutions are less effective than visually-led solutions in print ads.

It's all about how people consume the medium.

For TV, I believe that as long as the consumer isn't using TiVo or Sky+, and hasn't left the room to pee or make a cup of tea, then we can assume they are actively looking at the adverts - in a way they never are in a newspaper or magazine.

john dodds said...

I agree with you entirely about ads that are a page of words - they are surely never read, but I do think a snappy headline (for want of a better term) can attract the reader riffling through a paper/magazine in just as effective a way as your visually dominate done.

Both work. But I made the point about words because I think your musing about dialogue is perhaps an admission that viewers might zone out or be distracted by dialogue (or noise) elsewhere in the room. The same could be said, I think, for press ads.

After all, the mindset of the reader is that of actively looking for content (and not advertising) and you need something to arrest their attention. Great visuals can do that but I wonder if the reader's mind might be more attuned to noticing words rather than images (don't know the answer - just musing on that one). If it is, then the case for words is strengthened.

Bottom line I think your assertion that the viewer is actively looking for adverts is really questionable - just as it is in press/magazines. The only people who actively look for and at ads are marketing or advertising people and we should not forget that.

john dodds said...

@anonymous Good to know that advertising people are still obsessed with appearing cool ;)

Anonymous said...

Working for a UK/US production co without question our US dialogue work is lapped up by UK creatives, partly because they've seen all the British work and because it's clearly funnier, but remember the States from a budgetary perspective produces nine times more commercials than us so they’re producing a lot more work and we’re just seeing the best of a lot of it. Maybe we've just got no balls to sell through funny dialogue ideas? Visual is safe but more importantly it achieves it's aim of brand recognition with any sound. Maybe that's the point nowadays. Just getting your message across the mass of different platforms especially online, TV, billboards and giant electronic screens in public places. It has to translate across them all. A little visual brand logo engagement is all you need.

Anonymous said...

obviously there are cultural differences, everything is subjective blah,blah.

agree with previous that over here in the USA we simply do more commercials, therefore have more opportunity to get better at it.

but the biggest difference i see is that the UK lately seems to approach making ads like it's a science. everything (a lot of things) feels very calculated and a bit lifeless. very plannery.

i get the feeling there's not much fun had on the sets of a lot of the stuff i see.

the irony being that the UK makes the best and freshest tv comedy in the world. the ads lag far behind by comparison. why is that?

Anonymous said...

i've finally figured it out. the difference between UK and US advertising is this. in the UK you assume the attention of the consumer. in the US we don't. we may act like an idiotic neofascist global bully, but we don't do that.

hence all your "ooh i wonder what this 90 second monotonous telly ad is all about?" type TV ads. we don't do that stuff anymore. because no one is watching TV anymore here. it's like, scary, dudes. we're losing our power.