A question was posted on a discussion board “What is the difference between the British and American approach to digital advertising?”

My first thought was, ‘other then the Americans loving the brash diamond-white smiling salesmen-type approach saying “trust me” and the English preferring cynicism, sarcasm and convincing with facts from the “and now the science bit”, you mean?!’

Resisting though, I think there are fundamental key differences across the pond between American and International approaches to digital advertising, which are partly steeped deeper in culture.

From my own observations, I see five issues the US struggles with:

  1. Technical specifications being too restrictive
  2. Lack of personal employment contracts
  3. Agencies handing over control too early in the production cycle
  4. Higher attention to legalities and threats or repercussions therein
  5. Brands are like royalty – the heritage of America.

And then one further key thought:

  • UK is the gatekeeper of International campaigns

Breaking this down:

  1. Both the US and UK are seen as key markets from a web reach basis, and as such strict guidelines are in place at publisher end and little flexibility is allowed by both countries in breaking the mould – In this way they actually share commonality. Although this should heighten focus of what can be done, I fear more often than not it hampers the ability to be innovative. Move beyond UK though to International, and it’s the smaller markets that do not have these restrictions and therefore a lot of creative innovation is done as a result – Holland, Greece, Spain, Brazil… some great examples of digital creativity there, which in turn feedback to the major markets.
  2. If you feel going to be too edgy is going to put you in the firing line, you are not exactly going to be confident in trying something new. Pushing boundaries is bound to include some failures. Is there encouragement within an agency to experiment and occasionally fail without repercussion, but see it as part of a learning curve? Therefore I would say US has knowledge, but UK has experience in certain cases.
  3. The culture in UK is much more about control. They want to do a lot of work in house in order to oversee the little details – just give them the tools. The US is much more prepared to hand things over, deciding it is more cost-effective and less frustrating in fault-finding if it is someone else’s issue. Problem arises US side as they are therefore one step further from technical possibilities as a result, which in turn flat-lines their creative executions, with danger of reducing them to formulaic templates.
  4. Behavioural targeting, Data capture, etc – these are issues that are far more rife in the US with threats of legal turning into actual cases. UK tends to just moan about stuff up the pub, but do little action. As a result you can push technological adoption and work out things on the fly a lot faster in UK.
  5. UK has the Queen, US has Ronald McDonald. Brands like Coke, Nike, Levi’s are as much a part of the heritage of America as the Battle of Hastings is in UK. As a result just as you would not deface a picture of the queen without worrying with hearing the summons ‘off with his head’ so in the US you don’t muck around too much with the brands either. Brand consistency or lack of creativity – you decide?!

And finally:

  • US have huge reach with just one language. UK doesn’t. To hit same volume of people you have to at least hit the top five European countries. Each has their own peculiarities and restrictions, and certainly different native tongue. Within same timescale of digital deployment in US, UK has to manage five times the planning, production, distribution, deployment and analysing – with often a lower budget. This brings a huge difference in understanding and managing international projects – hence a lot of UK agencies are split between local and International offerings. Though budget controls and decisions remains in the US, it is their UK counterparts who have the front-line working knowledge.

More collaboration needs to take place between the two countries in this new global virtual village if brands stand a fighting chance moving on in digital…