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Advertising Week

What can UK advertising learn from the US?


By Dave Birss, Contributor

September 26, 2013 | 6 min read

The Drum's editor-at-large Dave Birss sums up an exciting four days at Advertising Week New York, where he managed to interview The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger among others. Here he explains what us Brits can learn from US advertisers.

It's the last day of Advertising Week New York. It's been an amazing four days for this little Scotsman in this big city. It's been bigger and glitzier than the average UK advertising event (that's classic British understatement right there!). It's had impressive people speaking on fancy stages. And it's been a bit of an eye-opener for me; advertising in the States is a little bit different from our own.

So I sat down to work out what the differences are between the American and British industries. And, seeing as it's Advertising Week's 10th anniversary, I've done the cheesy thing and chosen 10 things we can learn from our brethren across the pond.

Don't be ashamed of selling

Advertising has always sat at that uncomfortable intersection of business and art. In the UK it's more about the art while in the US it's more about the business. They understand that a client is paying an agency money to generate revenue, so they're not embarrassed to ask for a sale in their advertising. And their best work proves that you don't need to sacrifice creativity for a strong call to action.

Learning is vital to staying competitive

There's a much healthier attitude to training and development in the States. Which makes me think that I probably started my education company in the wrong country! Even the creatives in agencies want to keep learning and picking up new knowledge. And that's vital if they want to keep producing relevant and effective work.

It's our duty to give back

The American advertising industry has had the Ad Council since the 1940s. It funds social and charitable messages for the greater good of the nation. And many of those ads are award-winning pieces of communication. The UK doesn't have anything like that. We should. Who's up for it?

We need to address diversity

Both the UK and US advertising scenes suffer from a lack of diversity. They're both predominantly white, middle class bubbles. However, I've seen some fine efforts to redress the balance in the States. More diversity leads to broader experiences leads to more interesting work. And maybe that's just what the industry needs to inject some fresh life into it.

We need more positivity

I'm not talking about whooping and hollering and high fiving each other in the corridors. But I'm talking about having a better attitude towards the industry. For the last few years I've been hearing a lot of bah-humbug whinging about how the industry isn't as good as it used to be. That kind of talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that produces an industry of depressing miserablists. On the other hand, recognising that there are more opportunities than ever to do great work in new and interesting media will generate an industry of optimistic fire-crackers. Let's stop being like Morrisey and be a bit more like Dave Lee Roth.

Understand that advertising isn't just about agencies

Advertising Week's attendees and speakers include everyone who's part of the wider advertising world. There are clients, publishers, data crunchers, broadcasters, app builders, gaming companies, digital platforms and tech innovators. And everyone's on the same level. The ROI of location specific, personalised micro-content sits comfortably alongside panels of creative directors. Nobody's looking down on anyone else which is - sadly - a refreshing change.

Reinvention is necessary

I've heard the heads of agencies as well as brands talk about what they are doing to adapt and innovate. There was a brilliant talk on the new Creative Director and how the role requires more collaboration and less glory than ever before. There are clearly changes happening in even the biggest US agencies that I've not been witnessing to the same extent in the UK. David Ogilvy once said "innovation is our life blood, stagnation our death-knell". That's never been more relevant.

Share your knowledge

I've attended some very frank sessions where agencies talk about their failures as well as their successes. Speakers were freely sharing processes and new thinking with each other. It's the opposite of the ridiculous 'proprietary agency knowledge' model where companies trademark their own Plannerific™ or Thinkatron™ methodologies as if they're something unique and magical. They're not. Working together as an industry and sharing our discoveries helps us all move forward faster.

Try new things

America has a wonderful attitude to disruptive ideas and new products. Innovation is celebrated in the States. And that came across in many of the talks. There's less of the I-won't-try-it-until-I-see-a-successful-case-study attitude. And that keeps the industry exciting and stops it from atrophying.

Celebrate the industry

Advertising has an important role in today's society. It helps to keep the economy moving. It helps to launch new products. It funds entertainment. And it provides jobs for people who would be otherwise unemployable (like me). Advertising Week is about celebrating the industry and helping it improve by sharing knowledge.

There's only hours of this ad-fest left. And I'm rather sad it's coming to an end. But on the plus side - it'll be happening all over again in London at the beginning of 2014. I'll see you there.

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