Differences in British and American Television and Magazine Advertising: Myth Or Reality?

ABSTRACT - A comparison between British and American television and magazine advertising was undertaken to determine if their advertising styles and techniques differ. A large sample of advertisements from the two countries was content analyzed and examined according to the Foote, Cone and Belding (FCB) planning matrix of product involvement (high/low) and product emotionality (thinking/feeling). The results show that advertising styles do vary substantially and systematically between the contingent decision making FCB cells. However, the outcome provides only partial support to the widely held view that British ads are oriented more toward a soft sell than U.S. ads. Specifically, the ads in both countries changed their orientation from a factual to an entertainment focus as products moved from high involvement/thinking toward low involvement/feeling categories. For TV ads the major difference between the countries was revealed in the high involvement/feeling product cell where U.S. ads took a decidedly factual orientation while U.K. ads primarily used an entertainment dominant focus. For the magazine sample the major between country differences were also in the high involvement/feeling cell but this time the British ads had more hard sell and less soft sell than the U.S. ads. Thus, the analysis of magazine ads does not support the overall proposition that British ads are more soft sell and entertainment and less factually oriented. The results of the TV analysis generally provide only directional support for the prevailing view that British ads are more entertaining and that U.S. ads are more factually oriented.



Citation:

Marc G. Weinberger and Harlan Spotts (1993) ,"Differences in British and American Television and Magazine Advertising: Myth Or Reality?", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 176-182.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 176-182

DIFFERENCES IN BRITISH AND AMERICAN TELEVISION AND MAGAZINE ADVERTISING: MYTH OR REALITY?

Marc G. Weinberger, University of Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Harlan Spotts, Northeastern University, U.S.A.

[Thanks for support from the Marketing Departments at Northeastern University and at the University of Massachusetts.]

ABSTRACT -

A comparison between British and American television and magazine advertising was undertaken to determine if their advertising styles and techniques differ. A large sample of advertisements from the two countries was content analyzed and examined according to the Foote, Cone and Belding (FCB) planning matrix of product involvement (high/low) and product emotionality (thinking/feeling). The results show that advertising styles do vary substantially and systematically between the contingent decision making FCB cells. However, the outcome provides only partial support to the widely held view that British ads are oriented more toward a soft sell than U.S. ads. Specifically, the ads in both countries changed their orientation from a factual to an entertainment focus as products moved from high involvement/thinking toward low involvement/feeling categories. For TV ads the major difference between the countries was revealed in the high involvement/feeling product cell where U.S. ads took a decidedly factual orientation while U.K. ads primarily used an entertainment dominant focus. For the magazine sample the major between country differences were also in the high involvement/feeling cell but this time the British ads had more hard sell and less soft sell than the U.S. ads. Thus, the analysis of magazine ads does not support the overall proposition that British ads are more soft sell and entertainment and less factually oriented. The results of the TV analysis generally provide only directional support for the prevailing view that British ads are more entertaining and that U.S. ads are more factually oriented.

There is a widespread belief that British advertising is fundamentally different than that found in the U.S. This view has been expressed more than once by Lannon (1986) who suggested that the two countries are based on different cultural metaphors which are reflected in a British soft sell versus a U.S. hard sell advertising orientation. In fact, there is good historical reason to embrace such thinking. After all, it was the great American copywriter Claude Hopkins (1923, 1927) who suggested that advertising should never seek to amuse because it only demeans your product. He reasoned no one buys from a clown. In the 1960's Rosser Reeves' widely read "Reality in Advertising" focused on the rational, no nonsense hard sell with its U.S.P. Entertaining consumers could have a 'video vampire' effect drawing attention from the message intent. Even the fabled David Oglivy (1963) issued the caveat, which he has only recently amended (Oglivy and Raphaelson 1986), that copywriters should avoid the temptation to entertain.

Though Hopkins, Reeves and Oglivy do not represent the only American views on the advertising of their time, each attained great notoriety for their work and probably helped form the widely held view that persists about advertising in America. It is the intention of this paper to provide a detailed analysis of both television and magazine advertising in the U.S. and U.K. by examining large broadly drawn samples of advertising from both television and magazines. The objective is to learn whether the differences suggested by Lannon and others actually exist or whether such views about the division between advertising in the two countries are based on myth. Further, it is the goal here to examine the style of advertising for both countries using the FCB Planning Matrix (see Figure 1) as a conceptual framework to predict and understand the structure of advertisements.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The FCB Planning Model

It is well accepted that consumer decision-making can vary widely between products and that marketing and advertising efforts need to be adjusted to reflect the contingencies inherent in a decision-making situation. The decision process and priorities that are involved in the purchase of a washing machine are far different than we would expect for fashion clothes or soft drinks. To account for such situations and to provide a conceptual framework to help guide strategy planning, Vaughn (l980, 1986) and others (Berger, l98l) at Foote, Cone and Belding developed what has become known as the FCB matrix (see Figure 1). The FCB matrix cross-classifies product decision-making situations along two dimensions, high/low involvement and thinking/feeling. It is commonly accepted that involvement is anchored at a low and high end. Further, it is recognized that an individual's degree of involvement is a decision making factor that is of fundamental importance in guiding consumer behavior (Ray 1973). The other FCB dimension of thinking/feeling is firmly rooted in work by Zajonc (1980), who reminded us about the importance of affect. Recently, academics and advertising researchers have increasingly turned their attention to affect (Ray and Batra 1983), emotion and mood as less cognitive alternatives to the traditional models that have dominated the academic literature in the U.S..

The FCB matrix embraces both the involvement and thinking/feeling dimensions to classify decision-making situations into which products broadly fit. Cell l, consisting of thinking and high involvement, emphasizes rationality and is characterized by economic motives. It typically includes automobiles, large appliances, and insurance among other products. Feeling and high involvement distinguish Cell 2 which is best associated with products such as sports cars, motor cycles, cosmetics, jewelry and fashion clothing. Products such as gasoline, paper products, and household cleaners are representative of Cell 3, which involves the low involvement/thinking dimensions. Finally, the low involvement and feeling dimensions make up Cell 4, which is reserved for items of personal taste, "life's little pleasures," such as alcohol, cigarettes and candy. Though there are variations in how particular brands might be viewed, the product classifications have been upheld for use in the U.S. (Zaichowsky 1987, Ratchford 1987) and in the U.K. (Wood 1986). The FCB framework is used in this study as a conceptual framework and as a tool to subdivide products and advertising to better understand ad differences.

The expectation is that the style and content of advertising should, at some level acknowledge the contingencies imposed by the decision making situation reflected by the product in the FCB matrix. Products in Cell 1 are expected to be dominated by factual relevance with relatively limited use of pure entertainment. Conversely, Cell 4 would be dominated by an entertainment orientation acknowledging both the low involvement and emotional aspects of the products. The two off diagonal cells, as hybrids of the more well-defined Cells 1 and 4, are expected to show a balance in advertising styles with heavy use of the factual relevance and entertainment styles.

FIGURE 1

FOCUS OF TELEVISION ADVERTISING IN THE U.S. AND U.K.: ENTERTAINMENT VERSUS FACTUAL/RELEVANCE

Differences in US and UK Ads

Of greatest interest here is the fundamental and widespread belief among many that the British and American cultures are based on different assumptions that are reflected in their respective advertising practices. The goal is to examine the advertising for indicators that might support or refute this view.

Lannon and Cooper (l983) and Lannon (1986), both respected advertising executives, purport that U.S. ads are much more 'hard sell' oriented and grounded in rigid hierarchy of effects models. Lannon points out that in contrast to this perception of American ads, the British and European model (Carey l975) is based upon a metaphor of myth and ritual (holistic cultural) dominated by a softer sell with understated humor and highly visual (in contrast to verbal) content.

The upshot is that we should expect, in British ads, greater use of humor, more entertainment attempts, less factual relevance, and greater use of softer than harder sell than we should find in American ads. Such an outcome would lend support to the belief that U.S. and U.K. ads reflect the cultural assumptions proposed by Lannon.

METHODOLOGY

For TV, a sample of U.S. and U.K. ads was taken from three major U.S. and two British commercial network television stations. Stratified random samples were collected across the networks from weekday and weekend dayparts to reflect the actual proportions of ads aired during these time periods in each country. Thus, every network, day, and daypart had proportional representation in the final set of ads. Actual videotaping of the advertisements occurred in the U.K. over three weeks during June and July, 1985, and in the U.S. for five weeks during September and October, 1985. A total of 1428 ads, U.S. and U.K. combined, were taped and content analyzed. After removing duplicates and a few product categories that could not be readily classified into one of the four FCB cells, a total of 697 ads remained for use in further analysis; 450 U.S. and 247 U.K. ads. For magazines, one issue from each of 13 magazines was studied in each country [U.S. Magazines: Car and Driver, Business Week, People, Reader's Digest, TV Guide, Better Homes and Gardens, Sports Illustrated, Time, Parade Magazine, Discover, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, Woman's Day. U.K. Magazines: Auto Express, Economist, Sunday Magazine, Reader's Digest, TV Times, Good Housekeeping, Observer, Sunday Times Magazine, Express Magazine, New Scientist, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, Woman's Weekly.]. Ads of a full page or larger were coded but retail and direct response ads were excluded. There were a total of 454 U.S. and 285 U.K. ads.

FIGURE 2

FOCUS OF MAGAZINE ADVERTISING IN THE U.S. AND U.K.: ENTERTAINMENT VERSUS FACTUAL/RELEVANCE

After initial taping, the TV ads were coded by two independent judges for information content and product classifications; discrepancies in coding were resolved by a third judge. For humor, whether an attempt at humor was made was coded for each ad. For the broad stylistic category of entertainment, an attempt to be amusing, fun, playful, exciting or clever qualified and for the equally broad factual relevance style, product usefulness, new ideas, information seeking or advantages were features which qualified the advertising. The intercoder reliability for the variables categorized ranged between .78 and .96, largely within the .85 limit suggested by Kassarjian (1978).

The magazine ads were coded by two separate judges for the same two broad stylistic categories of entertainment and factual relevance as well as intent to be humorous. In addition, a new category labeled hard sell, soft sell or combination was used to classify the ads. As in the TV ads the reliabilities were moderate to high. Discrepancies were again resolved by a third judge who broke the ties between judges.

RESULTS

Factual Relevance and Entertainment

In TV ninety percent of the ads in both countries contained either elements of entertainment or factual relevance. The British used both factual relevance and entertainment in the same ads more often (30.94%) than the Americans (25.60%). They also used more entertainment with no elements of factual relevance included (UK 35.2% / US 27.2%) (see Figure 1, page 8). As expected, the U.S. sample used factual relevance but no entertainment to a greater extent than the British (US 39% / UK 30.0%).

In magazines the ads in neither country used pure entertainment very often (UK 13%/US 8.8%). Ads in both countries contained more pure factual relevance than in TV with the numbers of ads using a blend of entertainment and factual relevance high in both countries (see Figure 2, page 9).

An analysis using the FCB matrix to subdivide products provides a more situational view of the advertising orientations in the two countries.From an FCB perspective, the expectation is that as one moves to products that are more emotional than rational and from high to low involvement, ads will have a higher entertainment quotient and a lower proportion of factual relevance. The British TV and magazine ads and the US magazine ads follow just such a pattern through each of the four FCB cells. This shift in strategies across product types is most clearly viewed by comparing the profile of ads in the high involvement/thinking Cell 1 with the low involvement/feeling Cell 4.

FIGURE 3

HUMOR IN TELEVISION AND MAGAZINE ADVERTISING

For example, in the British TV ads in Cell 1, 14% of the ads are entertainment only and 39.5% factual relevance only, while in Cell 4, 62.2% of the ads are entertainment only and just 5.4% factual relevance only. This same pattern was found in British and U.S. magazine ads (see Figure 2). The American TV ads also showed a similar reversal between Cells 1 and 4 with predictably more factual relevance only than the British sample. The high involvement/feeling of Cell 2 revealed an unexpected profile of ads for the U.S. sample of magazine and TV ads.

While the British TV ads shifted to less emphasis on factual relevance and more entertainment, the American TV ads focused almost exclusively on factual relevance (68.9%) with little use of entertainment alone (6.9%) or in combination with factual relevance (10.3%). However, U.S. magazine ads in the same Cell 2 contained just as much entertainment only ads as their U.K. counterparts and far less factual relevance than the matched British ads from Cell 2. Apparently, U.S. TV advertisers placed a higher premium on the high involvement rather than the feeling aspect of the product decisions. The British TV ads on the other hand employed a balance with 38.1% of ads using both entertainment and factual relevance in the same ads, 23.8% using entertainment by itself and just 19.0% using factual relevance alone.

Based on the sample of ads here, both British and U.S. advertisers approach magazine ads quite differently than they do TV ads. Overall, British ads in Cell 2 become far less entertainment oriented when moving from TV to print while just the opposite is true for American advertisers.

Humor

In TV the use of humor overall was significantly greater in the U.K. (35.5%) than in the U.S. (24.4%), while in magazines, the U.K. ads contained just slightly more humor (11.6%) than U.S. ads (9.9%). The overall lower use of humor in magazines in both countries conforms to the expectations of U.S. advertising executives (Madden and Weinberger 1984). Again however, the FCB analysis again reveals a more detailed view of the usage of humor for different product groupings (see Figure 3). For magazines and TV the least humor for both countries was the high involvement/feeling cell (Cell 2). Here the U.K. TV and magazine ads used humor only 20% and 3% of the time respectively while none of the U.S. TV ads and just 5.5% of magazine ads made an attempt at humor. For high involvement/thinking products there was no difference between the amounts of humor in TV ads in the two countries (U.S. 23.9%,U.K. 25.0%). However, in U.S. magazines 7.9% of ads used humor while in the U.K. 21.7% did so. This high usage of humor for high involvement/thinking products was quite surprising and was the highest use of humor for magazines.

FIGURE 4

SELLING APPROACHES IN MAGAZINE ADVERTISING

In TV low involvement/thinking (Cell 3) and low involvement/feeling (Cell 4) products in the British ads used more humor than U.S. ads. While the U.S. TV ads did increase their usage of humor in Cells 3 & 4, in Cell 4 the British ads still made significantly greater use of humor. Looking at magazine ads in Cell 3 & 4 we get a somewhat different profile of comparison. U.S. magazine ads actually contained somewhat more humor than comparable U.K. ads. While ads in the low involvement/feeling Cell 4 generally contained more humor than in any other cells, the British magazine ads only contained 13.7%, less than in British magazine ads in Cell 1 or than U.S. magazine ads in Cell 4.

Overall, the pattern of humor usage is quite different in the two media between the U.S. and U.K.. Television ads in the U.K. contained more humor in all FCB product cells than in the U.S.; however, U.S. magazine ads actually contained more humor than their British counterparts in three of the four FCB product cells.

Selling Message

An over-riding question about British and American advertising is whether the selling styles are different in the two countries. A hard sell is a message that emphasizes a strong argument and call for action whereas a soft sell includes ads with an indirect appeal that uses mood, ambiguity, and suspense to create an intriguing message. The magazine ads were coded as hard, soft or a combination of both. Overall, the U.S. ads contain more soft (30.6%) and hard sell (44.1%) messages while the British ads contain more combined hard and soft sell ads (36.8%). Again using the FCB framework, both U.S. and U.K. ads became significantly less hard sell and more soft sell as we shift from the high involvement/thinking products of Cell 1 through to the low involvement/feeling Cell 4 products (see Figure 4). Where soft sell was less than 10% of ads in both countries in Cell 1, almost 70% of ads in Cell 4 were soft sell. Just the opposite pattern is found with hard sell ads. The profile of U.S. and U.K. ads were actually very similar in Cells 1 and 4. However, in the high involvement Cell 2 the U.K. ads were actually far more hard sell and less soft sell than their American counterpart. For low involvement/thinking products of Cell 3, the U.S. were more hard sell. The expectation of a softer British and a harder U.S. selling style was not generally confirmed across the FCB cells for this set of magazine ads.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

The premise that prompted this research was the historical belief in a fundamental philosophical difference between U.S. and U.K. advertising practices. While the overall TV results did provide some support for this contention, the differences between the countries were found largely among products in the high involvement/emotional FCB Cell 2. Overall, there was more entertainment value and humor in the British sample than the U.S. sample - which used more factual relevance. These results generally indicated a more factual format in the U.S., with more pure entertainment in the U.K..

The magazine results, though far less humorous and less entertaining than TV in both countries, do not support the proposition that British ads are entertaining and less factual. In fact, in Cell 2 just the opposite results were found with more British factually oriented and hard sell ads. In addition, the direct analysis of hard and soft sell finds no differences in Cells 1 and 4, and, conflicting results in Cell 2 and 3. Cell 2 had more U.S. soft and more U.K. hard sell ads whereas, in Cell 3 there were more U.S. hard sell messages.

The differences in TV ads, while providing some support to the basic proposition about advertising in the two countries, should not be overstated because with little exception the ads in both countries varied systematically and in concert with one another as products moved from high involvement/thinking (Cell 1) toward low involvement/feeling (Cell 4). In Cell 1 the ads in both countries were dominated by factual relevance followed by those with a blend of both factual relevance and entertainment. In contrast, for both countries, Cell 4 saw low use of factual relevance and proportionally higher use of entertainment and humor. Furthermore, the magazine ad samples quite clearly do not lend support to a view of softer sell British and harder sell U.S. ads.

Conflicting findings emerged when studying ads across media. For the British TV sample, the focus of the ads in Cells 2 & 3 (high involvement/feeling) and (low involvement/thinking) shifted, as expected, away from the more factual style of Cell 1 toward the more stimulational style of Cell 4. For the U.S. TV sample, this same pattern held for Cell 3 but not for Cell 2. The U.S. Cell 2 was almost devoid of focus on stimulation with few ads trying to entertain or use humor. The orientation was clearly factual relevance. In contrast, the British ads in Cell 2 with their entertainment-focus devices, seemed to acknowledge the feeling aspect of products in this cell whereas the U.S. ads concentrated on the high involvement aspects. In magazine ads the British ads were decidedly more factual and hard sell than the U.S. magazine ads. Though TV ads in both countries shifted in Cell 4 to less information and more humor, the U.S. TV ads used significantly less humor than their British counterparts. This was not the case in magazine ads.

The second major goal of this study was to determine if the style of advertisements varied systematically across the FCB matrix. The results support just such a pattern. Cell 1 with its high involvement/thinking aspect was as expected, dominated by factual relevance followed by a blending of factual relevance and entertainment value. Pure entertainment value accounted for less than 15% of the sample for both countries in magazines and TV. At the opposite end of the scale, Cell 4 with its low involvement/feeling orientation was dominated as much by pure entertainment as Cell 1 was dominated by factual relevance. The off diagonal Cells 2 and 3, for both countries, were expected to show more of a blending of both factual relevance and entertainment as well as a greater balance between pure entertainment and pure factual relevance. Cell 3, with its low involvement/thinking dimensions, does show a bias in both countries toward factual relevance especially in magazine ads. The rational or thinking aspect of products indicative of this cell seems to have been only slightly more important in the TV ads than the low involvement aspect which would be expected to bias the style toward entertainment. Cell 2, designated by high involvement/feeling products, was also expected to be a blend of ad styles for both countries, but, as discussed earlier, the samples from the two countries were very different. Where U.S. TV advertisements in Cell 2 placed their emphasis on the high involvement aspects of the products almost exclusively, using pure factual relevance to an even greater extent than in Cell 1, the U.K. sample was evenly balanced in its usage of the advertising styles. As noted earlier, the opposite was found in magazines with British ads being more hard sell and factual than U.S. ads.

The conclusion from this analysis must be, with the exception of high involvement/feeling ads, that differences between U.S. and British ads are of degree and not of kind. The predicted fundamental difference of a harder U.S. and softer U.K. orientation is only partially supported for TV and not confirmed at all for magazine ads. Though useful for rhetorical purposes, by emphasizing the differences between British and American advertising, we may actually be overlooking the more important similarities that dominate how advertising is approached both within and across different product categories. We may be espousing differences that may based more on historical cultural myth than fact.

From a conceptual perspective the systematic shifting in advertising styles across the cells of the FCB does not imply that there are pat formulas for advertisers, but that there is an underlying pattern that advertisers generally pursue in developing ads for categories of products. However, future work must go beyond the descriptive level of this project and examine the relative effectiveness of advertisements that use an entertainment or factual relevance strategy for different product types. Only then will it be possible to determine if a pattern of effectiveness exists in the use of an entertainment or factual advertising message strategy.

REFERENCES

Berger, David (l98l), "A Retrospective: FCB Recall Study," Advertising Age, October 26, 36-38.

Carey, J. (l975), "Communication and Culture," Communications Research, April.

Cohen, Joel B. (l983), "Involvement and You: l000 Great Ideas," in Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, l0. Ann Arbor: Association for Consumer Research, 325-328.

Hopkins, Claude (1923), (1927) Scientific Advertising and My Life in Advertising, reprinted by Advertising Publications Inc., Chicago,1966.

Kassarjian, Harold H. (l977), "Content Analysis in Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, 4(June), 8-l8.

Lannon, Judie (1986), "New Techniques for Understanding Consumer Reactions to Advertising," Journal of Advertising Research, 26 (4), RC6-9.

Lannon, Judie and Peter Cooper (l983), "Humanistic Advertising: An Holistic Cultural Perspective," reprinted in Marketing Communication, l984-85. Cranfield: School of Management.

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Zaichowsky, Judith Lynn (1987), "Emotional Aspects of Product Involvement," in Advances in Consumer Research, XIV, M. Wallendorf and P.E. Anderson, (eds), Ann Arbor: Association for Consumer Research, 32-35.

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----------------------------------------

Authors

Marc G. Weinberger, University of Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Harlan Spotts, Northeastern University, U.S.A.



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993



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