In spite of the many cultural similarities between the United States and the United Kingdom, there are significant differences between American and British television advertising. Advertising content in the two countries is substantially different today, even though early British television adverts had a tendency to be made in the American style, and supported by American research methodologies, when television advertising was introduced into British culture in 1955 (Lannon, 1986). Although several differences in the two countries’ television advertising practices have been identified in previous research, this study focuses on one in particular: difference in ad content. This research sets out to discuss said differences in ad content and explores the motivations for these differences.
This discussion will examine specific media groups in two different societies and discuss their differences, contributing to developing an understanding of different kinds of media practices. Comparing advertising practices in the United States and United Kingdom is relevant for several reasons: because both countries are highly developed industrial consumer societies, consequently, the same categories of consumer products would be expected to appear in both countries; the British system of regulating TV advertising has been regarded superior to the American approach (Buell, 1977); the deep-seated and widespread belief in the United Kingdom that British culture and American culture are both individually based on different assumptions that are reflected in their respective advertising practices (Weinberger & Spotts, 1989a). Advertising Defined
“Advertising – apart from its more or less hidden purposes – is a form of communication between a sender and a receiver of a message” (Borrelli, 2010). Advertising is deemed as the business of “bringing into notice; spec. by paid announcement in a printed journal, by prominent display of placards, etc” (Online Oxford English Dictionary), an activity to “the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements” (Merriam Webster Online). It does not matter whether the advertised item is a product, a service or a better version of ourselves (Myers, 1994).
According to Sherry (1987), “advertising is a system of symbols synthesized from the entire range of culturally determined ways of knowing that is accessible through ritual and oriented toward both secular and sacred dimensions of transcendental experience in hyperindustrial society”(pp.443-444). McLuhan (1970) refers to it as the cave art of the twentieth century. As art, Williams (1980) perceives advertising as the official art of modern capitalist society, Feasley (1984) as fitting the definition of art by its enrichment and intensification of life, as well as a reflection of our lives, and Borghini, Visconti, Anderson & Sherry (2010) as matching the tendency of art to embody universal fantasies, feelings, and thoughts advertising expresses the rational and emotional experiences and moods of consumers.
In his analysis of advertising, Schudson (1984) describes advertising as capitalist realism, which he defines as a set of aesthetic practices promoting and celebrating a certain political economy. Schudson’s (1984) description comes from his understanding of socialist realism, which presents a standard version of reality that is simplified, collective, optimistic, progressive, and socially integrative. Capitalist realism celebrates the choice of the consumer in defense of materialism and individualism by representing consumer satisfaction as an idealized form. “‘Advertising is capitalism’s way of saying “I love you” to itself’—(and, as we all know, love means never having to say you’re sorry) (Weinberger & Spotts, 1989a, pp. 444).” Accordingly, Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton (1981) say that advertising promotes forms of materialism that are instrumental as well as...
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