EDITORIAL - Seeing markets in different lights

Europe's leading advertising magazine Campaign has recently indulged its readers in an enjoyable comparison of British and US advertising.

Europe's leading advertising magazine Campaign has recently indulged its readers in an enjoyable comparison of British and US advertising.

Naturally the conclusion is that US ads would probably fail in Britain, just as those quaint English spots would undoubtedly dive over here.

This is partly because most Americans love a winner, and most Brits love someone who tries hard and loses. But probably more importantly, the difference is that American brand managers expect their ads to have the product flying off the shelves, while British marketers are content to build image more subtly.

Alison Burns, president of Fallon McElligott in New York, tells Campaign readers: 'The English notion that branding is an integral way of appropriating the message and that it can be achieved in many executional and strategic ways, and that ideas themselves can be owned by brands is anathema to Americans. Branding, they believe, is a brain function that happens as a direct result of mentions, logos and the like.'

So who cares about the machinations of the Madison Avenue posse? What bearing do their movements have on PR? Well, they tell us a lot about the challenge of selling PR as the foremost brand-building tool in America.

Regardless of the success of organizations like Amazon.com (see p9), some CMOs remain skeptical about anything other than mass-market advertising.

As McElligott says, targeting gets lip service but it is still secretly feared because it seems to be 'excluding potential buyers'. No wonder then that PR, probably the best targeting tool the marketer has at his or her disposal, is still battling to get the recognition it deserves.

These Anglo-US differences suggest that the European market would be more receptive to PR as a brand-building tool, and with Virgin boss Richard Branson repeatedly stealing the front pages with his range of PR stunts, marketers must be taking a close look at their communications strategies?and hopefully budgets too.

But as our European survey (p14) illustrates, the PR market in Europe is still very much a developing one. Just as in the US, the bigger agencies are buying up smaller agencies all over the continent, and the smaller agencies are collaborating in affiliate networks.

The similarities do not end there. Just as the US industry is desperately trying to adapt to the diversity of the markets within the country so the big cross-border agencies in Europe are trying to find partners with an understanding of each region and the many ethnic groups. The days of European PR being an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon are over.

But PR is an adaptable and inexpensive messaging medium, which should make it perfect for brand building in newly perceived markets. While ad agencies are still trying to discover Michael Jordan's Slovenian equivalent, or the best film location in Estonia, communicators in those countries can be engaging their countrymen in a dialogue through the media or the Internet. PR should benefit from the fragmentation of the global audience. Vive la difference.

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