Lessons from America

Four US-based industry leaders explain why the open-mindedness, vision and drive of our transatlantic cousins reveals an advertising market evolving at an astonishing pace.


From the country that brought you Hollywood, Viagra and the drive-through, welcome Google. Defined by Webster's: "googol (noun) as a ten to the hundreth power." Defined by Naked: "Google (noun, pronoun, adjective, verb) as born of American spirit." Everything Google - its humble beginnings, foreign-born founder, effortlessness, hunger to conquer the world - make it the epitome of a great American brand, and another game-changing lesson from America to the rest of the world.

Google embraced an American culture of free enterprise by offering a revolutionary democratic service to clients and consumers alike. Consumers benefit from a clearer, more relevant free search engine, clients from the ability to pinpoint their target market with unprecedented accuracy and pay only for the ads that are successful, the ads worthy of a coveted click - and this was just the start. With this innovation, Google instantly reinvented the way consumers think of, and behave within, a category. Much like a small sneaker company in Portland did for sports culture, a small fast-food company in Chicago for convenience food, Sam Walton in Bentonville for mass retailing and Steve Jobs in San Francisco for technology. All of these examples are just the tip of an iceberg and could have provided great copy on innovations and lessons from America, but I kept returning to one company headquartered in Mountain View, California.

Fuelled by this sense of American-ness, empowered to be anything and everything to the planet, Google needed to invent a new way in which to communicate information about its brand - and the company did not disappoint. Google has ushered in an era of becoming a major American brand without a major American ad campaign. Unlike its predecessors, Google has no famous jingle or commercial that we freeze in time, forever associating with it. Google's advertising is the wonder with which we speculate on where the company will go next. Buy barcode companies and track behaviour from search to purchase? Acquire Last.fm and apply its model of curation to all information on the planet? Listen in to the chatter recorded by consumers' PC microphones, decode it, and use it to help target ads? Offer those same consumers a percentage of profit on the transaction? Buy or merge with the biggest brick-andmortar retailer in the world - Wal-Mart - and form Googlemart? Purchase marketing service agencies and/or their holding companies and own the advertising process from creation to execution?

The great American chairman, in choosing their CMO and marketing strategy, is torn between head and heart. Intellectually, they know they want a consultative organisational leader who can build brand and revenues at the same time as networking seamlessly with R&D, manufacturing, the supply chain and the extended marketing enterprise. But emotionally, many still have a legacy craving for a TV campaign that'll get everyone talking. Google killed all that. It demonstrated there was no difference between service and communications. The primacy of behaviour over message. The world will never be the same again.


"Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or, as our brothers to the south call you, Hey Zeus, we thank you so much for this beautiful harvest - Domino's, KFC and the always delicious Taco Bell." Will Ferrell, as Ricky Bobby, the Nascar Star, delivering grace at a family meal, in my favourite scene in the movie Talladega Nights.

What can we learn from this? In the US, media has much more freedom to sing for their supper in ways beyond ad space and time, or subscriptions. As a consequence, all content has the potential to be commercial (with the rather puzzling exception of the shirts of all the major sports - regrettably, Becks, soccer isn't one of them). I'd urge you to push for more liberal regulations to create more opportunities - done well, it works for the consumer, the programme maker, the broadcaster and the brand.

Doing it well means having an idea that will create an experience that the right consumers will choose to participate in, and that then changes their behaviour. Mere "associations" and "brought to you bys" are interesting, but not compelling. It means finding and working with other brands to co-fund production and airtime, and it means leveraging the hell out of it with powerful, tailored shopper marketing programmes at the shelf - as Procter & Gamble calls it, at the first moment of truth.

Talladega Nights is about Nascar, a sport many Campaign readers will not have heard of, and few will want to understand. No problem, Americans feel the same way about cricket. It is, however, an extraordinary franchise, with 75 million fans; which means, on any given race day, a Saturday or a Sunday, for a three-and-a-half-hour race, an average of between six and eight million viewers tune in.

Al Merrin and his creative teams at BBDO came up with the idea for Fast Cars and Superstars - the Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race: a seven-part series that aired on ABC this spring, in which celebrities from very different walks of life (John Elway from (American) football, Tony Hawk from skateboarding and William Shatner from Star Trek) are taught to drive by the Gillette Young Gun Drivers and then compete against each other. The best a man can get.

A simple concept that took some complex executing. From negotiating with ABC to air it, to finding sponsors such as Lowe's, Kroger, Sam's Club and Walgreens (think B&Q, Morrisons, Argos and Boots), and developing tailor-made in-store shopper marketing programmes with each of them, to negotiating with the celebrities and getting their fan websites linked to ours (creating a network, in the end, of more than 100,000 links), to producing seven episodes with four hours of programming, in a mere three-day shoot, with enough B-roll for e-mail and mobile alerts and the fan sites.

It averaged more than three million viewers per show, and the first episode had almost as many viewers as Match of the Day on BBC1 on 12 August. Brand perceptions improved and sales went up.

As Steve Fund, the global business director for Gillette at P&G, said: "The creative concept and the brand are intertwined. Really, the show is an ad!"



Last week, a senior person at Ogilvy in New York said to me: "If we present a plan for our client that looks anything like last year's, we'll get fired."

This accurately captures the environment we're operating in. It has left big agencies scrambling to change, or at least appear to change, and the market open to anybody with a good idea. Media, technology, business models and consumer behaviour are moving significantly, and moving fast.

Traditional agencies are consequently under pressure from all kinds of places, not just small shops, but media agencies commissioning content, media owners producing content and digital agencies hoovering up ever-increasing sums of money.

The last thing anyone in their right mind would do here is start an advertising agency.

In the US, this need for change isn't a fad, it's not about spin, it isn't about incrementalism - it's about fundamental, irreversible and continuous change. It's about a true democracy of ideas, where no-one has the automatic right to answer - internally or externally. It's causing, or should be causing, re-evaluation of the business agencies are in, the talent they need, the processes they follow, the financial structures they operate within and the difficult task of change management.

Senior clients are desperate for new thinking, as they are caught between the worst possible rock and hard place: the relentless demand from their bosses for innovation, combined with the ever-increasing pressure on accountability.

However, for those in the agency world prepared to embrace the opportunity, this is the best of times, limited only by their own ambition.

What of London? The concentration of talent is phenomenal, but the embracing of the need to change seems patchy, with the biggest barrier to making that change being attitudinal. "These digital agencies are getting a bit uppity ... fancy their chances at the main brief." "Digital is just another channel." "Had a brilliant day - persuaded the client to make three 30s rather than two." Terrifying.

Perhaps I've been away too long and "gone native", but, as much as anything, it seems to be a reflection of one dimension of national character - the open-minded, eager to move forward, embracing of progress that results in the US truly being "the capital of opportunity" compared with the "don't you know we used to run the world?" complacency that still pervades certain areas of the UK.

A sense of innate superiority is no match for drive, an open mind, entrepreneurialism and vision that results in Google, eBay, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, TiVo, etc.

Maybe the UK is different. Maybe these changes won't happen. Maybe clients are still biased to hearing answers from their ad agency. Maybe there's no rush. Maybe. But I wouldn't bet on it.


Americans are the most amazing race of people that ever lived. The way they have organised themselves across such a vast and varied land mass in such a short period of time, outstripping all other races in economic, cultural and military power, is mind-boggling. The way they did it is virally growing communities. Assortments of settlers, settling here, settling there, grouping together against the elements, human, animal or otherwise. Settlements that became communities, towns, counties, states. This community gene continues to rage strongly across this vast land.

In the online world, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Google are all in their own ways tenacious, viral, cohesive community plays seeking to connect the far flung. The British find this culture of community gung-ho and somehow distasteful - in the Connecticut town where we spend our summers, every single home sports an American flag. In the UK, flag-sporting is exclusively right-wing, working class, weird and scary.

American marketers are increasingly tapping in to communities - from runners, to students, to Boston terrier lovers or vintage Saab buffs, you name it - and this is a trend which is increasingly the name of the marketing game.

Digital capabilities help quantify, identify, winnow and target these communities, so digital is exploding in the US - just as anything that helps you connect and cover ground naturally will here.

User-generated content is also an explosion: the drive of Americans to be heard and noticed within their vast and potentially alienating land mass cannot be underestimated, and marketers don't underestimate it.

Professional communicators, ad agencies increasingly appreciate that nobody is as smart as everybody: thus, the creative in his or her ivory tower is fast disappearing over here, while several spots in this year's Super Bowl break were, of course, consumer-created.

Crispin Porter & Bogusky pioneered open-source and outside-in thinking in mainstream advertising, opening up its community to any other that could add to it. It has made through-the-line groovy in the US, and agencies such as Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, one of the great traditional agencies, now also one of the best non-traditional agencies within two years, point to the future.

Increasingly, American advertising creative efforts resemble the huge discussion around a table redolent of TV show creation - it's the community gene again: people coming together in ever larger and more diverse groups to embrace and make sense of a consumer neither quantifiable nor persuadable by traditional means.

My personal response to this consumer chaos has been to make my creative partnership with a planner.

While UK communities are not likely to be as dense and therefore, in a sense, as valuable as in the US, the UK consumer is and will increasingly be "chaotic", and will, therefore, need to be broached differently than via what still seem to me to be very traditional routes.

Currently, even the marvellous experiment of a DraftFCB - merging traditional and non-traditional on a huge scale - seems a decade away to me in the UK.