Rediscovering America Through British Advertisements
Written by Ryan Senense.
Advertising all over the world is different. Different cultures grow up with different images surrounding them. In London, that rings true, and as a visitor to the city, the advertisements here fascinate me.
The London Tube is ideal for adverts. Photo Credit: ALAMY
Exiting the London Underground Station late one evening, during the crowded rush hour, the illuminated image of a couple glows steadily beyond the silhouettes of exhausted commuters.
This sign was particularly interesting. It was as though it was made for me, waiting hundreds of feet under the surface of the earth with its bold, unpunctuated tagline: “Just like the movies”. It was a travel ad for the United States, a country with miles of protected wilderness, the most exclusive concerts and festivals, and world-class museums and sports facilities. As a resident of the presented country, the ad’s tone piqued my interest.
How the British view America
It appeared that the British perceived America as a nation of pop culture. Ads for Hollywood films and other American industries dominated public spaces, constant reminders of a globalized world. Double-decker buses act as moving billboards and the radio plays inside shops and cafes, with commercials between each song. Between YouTube videos and via popups on articles, British marketers utilize American pop music to sell American brands.
Though London is over 4,000 miles from the United States, many American franchises have injected themselves as staples of everyday life alongside their European counterparts. Large corporations such as McDonald’s and Starbucks had multiple franchises in Central London. Many US franchises also seem to be more popular in London than in California such as Krispy Kreme, Papa John’s, and Shake Shack.
I did not have to visit these establishments to know of their success; their ubiquity was evidence enough. Despite the presence of many thriving local restaurants and eateries in the city, these businesses are comparatively more expensive and are open fewer hours every day. There were many European fast food chains in London, such as Café Nero, Pret a Manger, and Costas, and I found this even more fascinating, as the average American likely had no knowledge of these companies. Why do American franchises seem to have universal appeal while these European fast food chains did not have major footholds in American cities?
As it turns out, American and English McDonald’s have many key differences that may account for their respective popularity in both cultures. While you can find chicken nuggets or hamburgers on the menu in both the US and the UK, in America you can enjoy pancakes, McGriddles, and hash browns at any time due to all-day breakfast. But, in Britain, you can enjoy your fries with Curry Sauce. The items on the menu are customized to the culture.
This variant of possibly the largest fast food franchise in the world is recognizable as McDonald’s but was repackaged and rebranded to sell to the British people. Small, minute details such as different sauce varieties or the fact that London chains have automated ordering systems to match the bustling pace of city life, provide insight into how in-depth international marketing tactics truly are. Though both countries speak English, it appears as though the cultural translation was utilized to make the menu more palatable to Londoners.
The next advertisement attempted to have me, an American exchange student, study abroad in America, which I found particularly ironic. Still, it provided a glimpse of how some universities convince their students to study in America. The Statue of Liberty was pictured, used as a symbol of the country. This is fascinating because Americans are spread over a large landmass, and many citizens have never seen the landmark in person.
Digital Marketing in Advertising
This advertisement prompted me to think about not only of its semantics, but it made me think about how digital marketing works. It fascinated me how the cookies seemed to know I was university age but not an American, and served as a reminder for the dominance of online advertising and marketing. This is the present and future of marketing and shaping public opinion, which is part of what makes studying business so applicable and rewarding.
These revelations remind me why I’m so proud and excited to be a part of the Haas community. Instead of finding random ads on the street to analyze or speculate about how localization teams adapted franchises to fit the interests of a target demographic, I’ll have the opportunity to learn from experienced veterans in their fields the role of semantics, perception, and design in advertisements and marketing. In fact, maybe in the future, Haas alumni will adapt a British franchise to appeal to the American public – or even innovate a franchise with an appeal so universal that it won’t need to be repackaged.