Special Report: The US

Everyone has an opinion about the US: its culture; its companies; its people; its president; its power. The place is so inescapably vast in scale and influence that there's a sense that we know it as well as we know our own countries, and that we have a right to judge it.

Look at what The Guardian did a few weeks ago - the newspaper launched a campaign to encourage its readers to write to the people of Clark County, Ohio, urging them to vote Democrat. A headline in The Washington Post the following day asked, without a soupcon of irony: "Can the Brits swing Ohio?"

The Guardian, remarkably, felt it was its right to have a hand in the American democratic process. What happens in the US, it reasoned, affects everyone. Well, the same goes for the ad industry.

The US controls almost half of the world's advertising market, spending an eye-watering $248 billion this year, hence the saying: when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.

The size of the US ad market, which is expected to swell further next year, despite the lingering war in Iraq and the loss of the lavish spending sprees around the election and Olympics, is the cause of much resentment and sneering in the global ad community.

Its advertising is generally awful, certainly not a patch on the lovingly crafted commercials in London's Soho, it is believed. And as for media, the US is leagues behind Europe at media planning and creativity, we often smirk.

Actually, as the features in this report point out, these beliefs are often myths. We are all so quick to judge the US and what it produces, especially as its role in the world grows ever more visible, that we often overlook what's really going on across the Pond.