Culture Clash: London Advertising Rhetoric (Part 1)
My trip to London was a gigantic change of pace from my quieter, Frenchier life in Pau. I think going from a tiny city (which feels more like a large town than a city at any rate) to such a bustling, fast-paced place was initially a bit of a shock.
I love cities. I love them passionately – I love the energy, the fullness, the chaos, the sense of so much happening in so many places all at once, so many stories, so much being created, so much being destroyed. I love the sound of traffic and the smell of exhaust on a cold fall morning. I love the rumble of voices and machines and motion that you can never escape – the eternal lack of silence. It’s like living in a main organ rather than a tiny capillary.
I’ve spent the majority of the last 10 years in big, crazy, chaotic cities – I lived in New York, Caracas, New Delhi, and Paris. But in this last half year of life in Pau, I’ve grown accustomed to something utterly different – such that for the first time in a decade, I was able arrive in a big city with a different perspective. I could arrive in London and love the city for its cityness – but also notice how strange it all is. How unnatural in a sense. How much you gain and yet how much you also lose. I noticed things I’d stopped noticing a long, long time ago, things you grow so accustomed to, things you begin to totally take for granted, things that slowly disappear and finally become invisible as you walk past them every day.
Now that I am back in Pau I am trying to digest all of this. I already miss the theater, the museums, the galleries, the capacity to get lost and get found again, to have endless new experiences, to watch so many people from so many places doing so many things.
I am happy, however, to escape the noise of advertisement. In Pau we don’t even have a television and while there are some posters up around town they are all mainly for local events – things I actually WANT to know about. There are almost no advertisements anywhere. Off the top of my head I can only think of one billboard in the center of town, that salutes our local basketball team.
In moving from the big city, I lost the essential city-bred capacity to ignore the things around me. After you live in a big city for awhile you stop noticing the billboards, the neon signs, the posters – but given my recent lack of exposure, I couldn’t keep my eyes off them. I think I read every single sign, poster, and billboard that I saw in London. I was stuck taking everything in, awash in a sea of words, slogans, phrases, suggestions, and dazzling, distracting lights and colors and images.
I thought a lot about the efficacy, or lack there of, of advertising in London, but also about what a city and a country’s style of advertising might reveal about the national character, the national psyche. It has made me so curious to go back to New York and other US cities to see what I can learn about the United States from how stuff is sold there.
In London I noticed several distinct and interesting patterns in the styles of ads. The most immediately striking was the constant use of rhetorical questions. They were everywhere. I am quite sure I have never, in any other location, seen so many ads using questions to convince or persuade or suggest.
It wouldn’t work in the US – it’s not direct enough. I think it would just irritate people. It seems to be the politer way manipulate in London however.
What might this say about the English?
Here is just a sampling:
It’s overwhelming isn’t it?