With the much anticipated return of Mad Men to US screens tomorrow night, it got me thinking – where ARE those witty, clever and creative commercials that Madison Avenue’s Don Draper and the folk at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce come up with so effortlessly on the show?
Having watched US television for almost a year now, I can count the number of truly clever and witty US commercials on one hand – and that’s being generous. Despite the big budgets and the hype (just think $3.5 million for a 30 second ad spot during the Superbowl) – most adverts here leave me feeling rather flat. Now, I don’t know about how many products these adverts sell (and it may be a lot more than British adverts) but from a creative standpoint, I have no qualms in stating that in general, US adverts don’t hold a candle to their British counterparts. And the key difference may come down to the points below:
Humour: Brits just do subtle humour so much better … UK advertisers will often use humour as a way of getting attention for the product, and the product itself is not the focal point of the TV advert. The humour takes many forms (satire, puns and witticisms) and the audience really needs to listen and pay close attention to the adverts in order to “get it”. And they do.
Hard-sell: Almost totally contrary to the above mentioned ‘softly softly’ advertising approach, a majority of US adverts tend to go in for the hard-sell technique (or as I like to call it, the ‘in your face’ technique). It’s all about the product information (sometimes in the form of a silly jingle) pressurizing the customer to buy, buy, buy. Quite often, the advert will take the form of a simple product demonstration comparing it to its “leading competitor” and showing how the advertised product is superior. These kinds of adverts are few and far between in the UK – and advertising regulations prevent the direct mention of a competitor brand name in an advert.
So why is it that despite a sophisticated audience (I have many American friends who appreciate humour, totally ‘get’ satire, and are some of the wittiest people I know) US advertisers tend to dumb down TV commercials? I don’t believe it is a lack of talented Ad Men. In fact, the very law of averages would suggest that there are many more Don Drapers in the US Ad world than in the UK.
Perhaps – it is the fact that smaller budgets (like in the UK) actually force more creativity? After all, if you can’t afford to spend millions on an advert – your creative idea had better be bloody good, and funny to boot.
Friends on both sides of the pond (and beyond) – what do you think ?