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Talk of the site: American admen in Britain, government advertising and McDonald's

LONDON - Brand Republic users were quick off the mark with tips for American advertising executives working in London. Meanwhile Rory Sutherland -- the Republic's most skilled rhetorician (or is that sophist?) -- argued that the state should spend more money advertising and less time legislating. The week's community roundup also looks at ethical buying and McDonald's rewarding students.

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The reprint of the American War department pamphlet 'Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942', which wisely advised the late arriving Yanks that "The British dislike bragging and showing off" inspired a forum with an updated version for today's American advertising executives in Britain.

Perennial trans-Atlantic adman George Parker was full of tips: "Don't take yourself so bloody seriously. Ad people in Britain still think you can do good work and enjoy yourself at the same time. Even if they're a bloody MBA.

"If you get invited out for a pint after work... Go. You might even enjoy it. And if you don't... Pretend you do.

"Don't make jokes about the weather, British food, or lack of personal or dental hygiene. Even though your parents spent a fortune on braces and corrective dental surgery, when you probably didn't need it, but 'cos everyone else in your school had a mouthful of tin you had to conform... It isn't such a big deal here.

"Be prepared to accept that in general, British women are better looking and much more sexy than American women."

Patrick Rice picked up on the theme of women: "American admen should know that even executive level British women flirt at work and understand that it's nothing more than that -- flirting. It's one of the things that can make the workplace a little less dreary. (It's even in the job descriptions of women in the French communications industry). It's okay to flirt back -- unlike American businesswomen in their unisex power suits, British women won't file a lawsuit.

"If someone has a glass of wine or two over lunch it does not make them an alcoholic.

"At the agency Christmas party do not stand in the corner and sip your Diet Coke. It is rude and boorish to be sober when everyone else is pissed."

Rory Sutherland also added some advice on relationships: "We don't 'date'. This means you should be prepared for (often bare-legged) women sometimes to pay you romantic attention without having first ascertained your salary and career prospects."

While Boise-based expat George became all misty-eyed: "It's funny, 'cos when I first came here as a student in the sixties, everyone in the biz got shitfaced all the time. And we smoked like chimneys and fucked our brains out, every chance we got. Now working on Mad Ave is like working in a bank... You have to be very careful, otherwise some woman you happened to look at admiringly (secretly lustfully) will sue the shit out of you. At least you guys still seem to be enjoying yourselves."

While Langford has words of wisdom about British consumers: "Don't imagine that ideas like 'empowerment' and 'patriotism' are as motivating for British consumers as for Americans.

"Don't over-estimate the importance of price or rationality in purchasing decisions -- often Brits aren't as good shoppers as Americans.

"Don't take comments you hear at 'focus groups' at face value, don't make an instant decision as soon as the group is over, in fact don't attend focus groups at all."

In his latest blog, Rory Sutherland argued that the government should spend more on advertising than its current "chickenfeed" of £150m a year. The government should be solving problems by changing the way people look at the world rather than legislating their behaviour: "So, if advertising can be used successfully to stigmatise drink driving, why can it not stigmatise, say, benefit fraud?"

In response to a comment that the UK is regularly the top spending government in the world on adverting and that politicians spend to change a voter's behaviour, not at getting individuals to modify their lifestyles, Rory responds: "The government exists to solve those problems which can only be solved collectively -- as opposed to individually.

"Large scale behavioural change plainly falls into that category. How can we possibly find it more acceptable for the government to effect behavioural change through legislation (compulsion) rather than through persuasion?

"It's not just advertising, mind. Let's not forget branded content. I would also create government-funded reality TV shows where we all get to watch Incapacity Benefit Recipients and other welfare recipients 24 hours a day to check they are quite as incapacitated as they say."

Andrew Payne said Rory's plan isn't a vote getter: "There are already massive misconceptions amongst consumers about the costs and the benefits [or otherwise!] of advertising. If they see the Government spending it, you just know what the reaction will be.

"The last thing the government needs is a Daily Mail-led campaign suggesting the treasury is lavishing money on 'intangible' activities such as advertising, which could otherwise be spent on 5000 doctors/nurses/teachers etc."

To which Rory retorted: "And what on earth is wrong with spending money on intangibles? Why is it a good use of my money to fund some fuckwitted stadium for the entertainment of the nation's cretins, while effecting lasting behavioural change is bad? I don't get it."

Despite the news that spending on ethical goods and services has doubled in the past five years Chris Arnold said ethical sales are being held back: "One of the key issues that has held growth back has been the premium charged on all green & ethical goods.

"From Fairtrade to environmentally friendly, many retailers charge as much as 30% above normal prices. Being green is something many people can't afford to do. It also explains why lower social economic classes buy hardly anything that's ethical. That's up to 40% of the population.

"Green is largely a middle class thing, but faced with a tighter budget, shoppers will cut back and opt for value over ethics when it comes to the crunch. If we want to see a dramatic change we need to bring prices down to the same level."

News that McDonald's is advertising on children's report cards in a Florida school district, offering Happy Meals to pupils who achieve A and B grades got the community started.

Matthew Kelly wrote: "No such thing as bad publicity. You've got to love it! This can only happen in America. No wonder why they are country full of obese people."

To which George Shvedov replied: "Parents need to look after their kids and not blame others. McDonald's did a brilliant marketing job with that!"

But David Catolfi Salvoni wasn't impressed: "Yes, but when does corporate social responsibility come in to play! I can't believe companies like McDonald's if they can get away with it they will! Aren't these people parents themselves?"

Final word is from Mike Blunt: "Research suggests that a poor diet affects academic performance. So this would mean that the top pupils get dumber as a result of getting good grades, and as the cycle continues the whole thing evens itself out into one big glorious McHole that a fat kid would struggle to pull himself out of. "

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