Creative gulfs: UK, France and US

I have been working with two agencies lately. One is a French-owned agency, and I am writing English copy for French companies hoping to infiltrate the UK market. The other is a US-owned healthcare agency, where your creative ideas must be run past creative directors in the New York office. This has given me a fresh opportunity to observe again cultural differences when it comes to agency creativity.

Broadly speaking, the French want what seems to me to be florid, overwrought copy. I find myself being asked to make descriptions even more descriptive, and I have to push back by saying that in the UK if you look like you are trying too hard, people smell a rat. And that copy that’s forested with adjectives and adverbs is hard to follow. And, of course, the whole point of advertising copy is that people can read it with minimum effort. To get all Pooh bearish for a moment, I want my copy to slide down like warm honey, not to stick around like chewed thistles.

Unerringly the New York office are drawn to what seem to be, to my UK eyes, risible ideas. Worse still, for pharmaceutical clients anything psychological, or on a human scale is quickly rebuffed. US approved concepts I’ve encountered are usually visually spectacular: over the years I’ve seen things like sharks, two-headed dogs to symbolise cholesterol, apocalyptic earthquakes with people tumbling into them to symbolise the dangers of a particular medical condition. But they just make me laugh. To me they like some absurdist Monty Python throwback.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the US and met extremely talented and smart people. What’s more they care passionately about the product they are trying to promote on behalf of their client, often in a completely irony free way. I also know that to them UK creative can seem half-hearted, and underwhelming.

It is lazy to say this is about irony. But I honestly believe that this is at the root of a cultural gulf, which as ideas cross and recross the pond in teleconferences, and even in portfolios on planes, can cause a good deal of mutual incomprehension.

By Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, comedy plays, dark fiction and the odd libretto. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.

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