Will UK Advertising Usurp? Industry Experts Dispute and Concede to Online Ad Power Across the Pond


Just before New Year’s 2007, the New York Times ran an article on the future of online advertising—more specifically, the future of such advertising in Britain. Optimistic in scope, the NYT talked to media buying agencies who claimed web advertising in the UK accounted for 14% of the country’s overall ad spending in 2006, growing at annual rate of 40% and effectively doubling that of the US.

Several professionals have pitched in to provide some insight into what these figures mean and why it may be perceived that the future of web advertising really is, or is not, in the UK’s hands. The supposed domination of the Web by Britain, and the differences that may attribute to any type of U.S. and U.K. online advertising comparative, must be taken into consideration when analyzing both countries’ online marketing efforts.

No doubt, there are differences between the U.S. and the U.K. online advertising methods, but it may also be a bit premature to call Britain a leader in online advertising just yet. Yes, the NYT article quoted Yahoo chief Terry S. Semel as saying “the US is so behind…it’s certainly lagging the UK by at least a year or two.” But whether that is true is up for questioning and with two industry leaders from the UK and the US, informed comments on who is leading the market and by what standards can possibly be formulated.

Surprisingly, all interviewees were in somewhat of an agreement to disagree with the findings, including Dave Smith, Managing Director for London-based agency New Media Maze, who couldn’t see how the UK could lead the world in online advertising but embraced the possibility. Former head of the IAB, Greg Stuart, couldn’t continue our interview without solid proof and Ian Schafer of Deep Focus, an interactive agency that services the business and entertainment areas, had trouble agreeing with this as well. So what is the difference between the UK and the US within online advertising practices and why do some professionals believe that the US can learn a lesson or two from Britain?

Let’s begin by comparing the ongoing trends in the UK and the US. According to Dave Smith, “The main trend is towards a greater degree of interaction. Ad units are getting a lot cleverer and a little heavier as well. So that’s the main trend, that you’re able to do more within an ad unit.” On the U.S end, Ian Schafer points out that the trend within the United States is veering towards the social media area. “Everyone’s become smitten and for good reason with social media, you know the whole ‘Web 2.0’ cliché. It’s led to sharing, to linking and even in some cases, shows just how visible the spread of a creation can happen.”

As the United States consumes itself with social networking, Britain is focused on a different type of medium and that is mobile marketing. According to Dave Smith, “it’s huge” in the U.K., as is the use of Skype, while Americans continue with traditional cellular service and have only begun to see the mobile expansion with phones that have online/interactive capabilities. But mobile marketing strides alone couldn’t make the U.K. a leader in online advertising. As Greg Stuart bluntly stated, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” which is why our interview stopped there, and potentially for good reason.


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