I’m firmly of the view that if you want to get to experience a place, even when on holiday, it’s worth placing yourself for a short while in the role not of visitor but of a resident. Living your normal life but in a place that’s unfamiliar is a good way to spot little details which go unnoticed by both tourists and locals — the former because they’re too small, and the latter because they’re too familiar.
The most recent example that’s repeatedly drawn my eye and ire has been American advertising. Visitors to the States will doubtless have noticed the vast quantity of ad breaks — somewhere around 30% of total airtime — on TV, but as I don’t watch broadcast TV, that’s less of a problem.
What’s striking to me isn’t the quantity but the surprisingly poor quality. This is a country that’s built an undeniably impressive economic engine out of its high consumer spending, love of convenience and self-expression via commercial means. So why, as someone completely unsteeped in the culture, do I find it all so utterly unconvincing?
The first and most obvious problem is the unsubtlety. I freely admit I was never the most likely prospect to sign up for GOOGLE FI! A PHONE PLAN BY GOOGLE! in any case, but the fact that GOOGLE FI! A PHONE PLAN BY GOOGLE! insists on bellowing at me every time I watch a YouTube video in case I become 0.01% more tempted to sign up for GOOGLE FI! A PHONE PLAN BY GOOGLE! in fact makes me dead set against buying any product from the world’s monopoly search engine ever again.
I’m not demanding that every pre-roll ad be the Ferrero Rocher Ambassador scene, but some level of taking the customer as worthy of respect wouldn’t go amiss.
This tendency to loudly bellow might inspire the obvious joke that it’s just catering to loud Americans, but it doesn’t reflect my experience of the treacherous colonials, really. If anything, the Americans I’ve met have a tendency to be almost overly earnest and careful to show their understanding of your position in a conversation.
This earnestness feeds into another challenge of American advertising which is a total lack of self-awareness. Exhibit A was encountered just last night when I was adding to my freezer a box of well-known frozen ice pole treats and noted an ad on the back for two of the company’s other products…