The World: Insider's View - US

For all its creative achievements in the ad industry, the UK is failing to match America's evolving business model, Antony Young writes.

When I was in London, it seemed that British media and advertising had the edge on the US. After all, didn't a Brit invent both TV and the worldwide web? UK creative, I found, was more adventurous, while the clever thinking such as communication planning was being imported across the Atlantic. And surely there is no equal to the BBC anywhere?

Nine months in New York has been my wake-up call, smelling my Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Sure, the market is bigger, but that doesn't at all equate to better - right? No question, the US ad market is big, to the tune of $270 billion annually.

However, it's not just the scale of spend that's impressive, but what you can do with it. I'm continually amazed by just how much say agencies can have with what a brand can do inside a programme. When brainstorming with TV sales execs, ideas get tossed around like "we could write into 24 that Jack Bauer races into one of your client's stores". The business model for TV is changing fast here. Every creative and media agency is scrambling to develop entertainment marketing expertise.

The borrowed quote of Terry Semel, Yahoo!'s chief executive, that "the US lags the UK" on the internet just doesn't ring true. Digital for many clients here is so much more robust and mainstream in their marketing. The industry now refers to the media plans in terms of "traditional interactive" versus emerging media. We have clients that set dedicated budgets for video on demand.

New media innovation isn't just taking place on the web. Radio, an old medium, is a case in point. The planned merger of the satellite radio players Sirius and XM will have a combined 12 million paid subscribers. I'd never have thought I would actually be willing to pay $12.95 a month for my radio, yet I find myself hooked to the choice and clarity.

Word-of-mouth (WOM) is also a genuine alternative medium here. While in London we might congratulate ourselves for employing some out-of-work actors to orchestrate a brand event at Waterloo station, here, WOM is a much more scalable option for advertisers. For example, you can buy access to a WOM network through companies such as BzzAgent in a similar way to broadcast, radio or outdoor. The difference is that instead of airtime and impressions, campaigns are priced on the number of agents, conversations and the duration of the campaign. Procter & Gamble has built Vocalpoint - its own WOM network reaching 600,000 mothers with "large social networks". P&G provides these participants with "messages mothers will want to share", along with samples and coupons.

Many expats in New York like me are discovering the US market is a fascinating breeding ground for innovation and commercial gain.

- Antony Young, the former CEO of ZenithOptimedia UK, is now president of Optimedia US, based in New York.

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