When most writers think about the difference between writing for a UK audience and a US one, they focus on the minor differences in spelling and other purely linguistic differences. Whilst (see what I did there?) it is important to know that a color in the UK is a colour or that a diaper is a nappy, the most vital thing to understand is the differences which run deeper than that. US and UK culture may be very similar, but it definitely isn’t the same. These cultural differences are reflected in the style of advertising that UK consumers prefer, and gaining an understanding of them helps you produce effective copy.
Too “In Your Face”
The main difference between advertising in the UK and in the US could be summarized simply: US advertising is more in your face. The “hard sell” approach is popular in the US; the features of the products take centre stage, there are direct comparisons between other products and outright cries to “buy now!” The classic image of US advertising is of a clean-shaven, well-dressed man holding the product in his hands, delivering a borderline cheesy description of the product in hyperbolic language. This is useful to keep in mind because it’s the ultimate synthesis of the direct, hard-sell approach favored in the US.
When you’re writing for a UK audience, the obvious marketing aspects have to be played down somewhat. You can still discuss the benefits of the product, but it should almost play second fiddle to some degree of entertainment or a more dramatic narrative. An archetypal UK-style advertisement simply shows the audience a situation in which the product would be used; there are tinges of humor and after some investment in the miniature storyline the product comes in to solve whichever problem has arisen. The advertisement doesn’t do much explicit marketing, but implicit elements such as the ease of using the product and the happier resulting lifestyle are evident.
Translating this to copywriting
US copywriting can therefore afford to be a little more straight-forward in its approach. The reader is aware that it’s some form of marketing, and expect to have the product directly sold to them. For UK consumers, this approach is less likely to be successful, so you have to make your approach more subtle. Introducing the problem that the product solves is the best way to start. You want to capture the reader’s attention with an introduction they can identify with. You have to set up the situation where the product can be of use before you move on to talking about its features and benefits.
When you’re writing for UK audiences, you have to drop the outright claims and the hyperbole. This is great advice for writing in general, but it’s particularly useful here: show the audience what you want them to know, don’t tell them. You could just come out and say, “Product X is the very best on the market,” but you’ll likely be met with skepticism from a UK audience. It’s better to explain the specific benefits, “it stays charged for eight whole hours and the design is intuitive.” The latter gives the reader something specific to latch onto.
The Importance of Humor
The British are well-known for their sense of humor, and accordingly their television advertisements almost always include (or are built around) a joke. This ties in with the “soft sell” approach discussed above, because the writing should focus more on entertaining than listing the features of the product in excruciating detail. You’re looking for readability, so the content isn’t impinging on the readers’ browsing to only offer a straightforward advertisement. One of the best ways to get this entertainment factor is through the careful use of humor.
It doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud stuff, but try to take on a light, humorous tone. The serious business (the features of the product, the price e.t.c.) is off-putting, so wrapping it up in some light jokes can be really useful. Try to make the humor broad, so most readers will get the joke and it’d be pretty difficult to be left confused. The description of the problem the product can help solve or the “typical” user of the product can be a good place to get a smile or two from your reader. If you think of something that raises a smile, don’t hesitate to put it in there.
Although the US and the UK are extremely similar culturally, British audiences don’t respond as well to the hard sell approach common in America. It’s better to take things a little more steadily with your writing, and not worry so much about cramming every single feature of the product into your copy. The main part of the battle is convincing the reader to get to the end of your work, so keep things readable and include a joke if you can. Brits who stick around till the end may take the bait, but you’ll never land sales if you make your game too obvious.