Extract from ‘Notes from a Big Country’ by Bill Bryson

I was re-reading one of my favourite books recently and found this passage:

I’m thinking of an unexpectedly diverting documentary I chanced upon three or four years ago comparing the marketing of proprietary healthcare products in Britain and the United States.

he gist of the programme was that the same product had to be sold in entirely different ways in the two markets. An advertisement in Britain for a cold relief capsule, for instance, would promise no more than that it might make you feel a bit better. You would still have a red nose and be in your dressing gown, but you would be smiling again, if wanly.

A commercial for the same product in America would guarantee total, instantaneous relief. An American who took this miracle compound would not only throw off his dressing gown and get back to work at once, he would feel better than he had for years and finish the day having the time of his life at a bowling alley.

The drift of all this was that the British don’t expect over-the-counter drugs to change their lives whereas Americans will settle for nothing less. The passing of the years has not, I can assure you, dulled the nation’s touching faith in the notion.

Later in the book, I found this passage:

There is an advert running on television at the moment that says something like ‘The new Dodge Backfire. Rated number one against the Chrysler Inert for handling. Rated number one against the Plymouth Repellent for mileage. Rated number one against the Ford Eczema for repair costs.’

As you will notice, because luckily for you your brain has not been dented and dimmed by years of over-exposure to rapid-fire American advertizing, in each category the Dodge is rated against only one other competitor, which makes comparisons a trifle hollow, it not actually suspect. I mean to say, if the Dodge were rated top against ten or twelve or fifteen competitors in any of these categories, then presumably the ad would have said so. Because it doesn’t say so, one must naturally conclude that the Dodge performed worse than all its competitors except the one cited. Ergo, it is effectively inviting you to think twice before buying a Dodge.

All of this makes me doubly relieved that I live in the UK.

The book was first published in 1998. The passing of the years has not, I can assure you, dulled my recommendation that you buy it. Not just for the insight into British adverts v American commercials, but also for a most enjoyable use of the English language.

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