A few weeks ago, this ad for Time Warner Cable popped up on local TV. Overall, it’s a pretty good spot; it paints Verizon as evil and greedy with their constant surcharges and fees, and therefore offers Time Warner as a cheaper, friendlier alternative.

Introducing the character of “Sir Charge” is where it gets sticky. While creating brand mascots can be a fine idea, I don’t know if we should [still] be painting the British upper class as the villainous, greedy capitalists they were in the era of Dickens.

Furthermore, surcharge is not a word used by the British! I found this out the hard way one day on a train in the south of England. I must have seemed like the thickest of all yankee gits sitting there trying to get an answer from the conductor guard. But much like “sidewalk” and “stove”, surcharge simply is not a word in British — instead, they simple say fee. So why would advertisers use it?

There are two reasons I can see, and unfortunately for the admen, they’re both bad. The first is simple ignorance. One wouldn’t know that surcharge isn’t a word in Britain unless they lived there long enough to start paying bills and arguing with the utilities, etc. over the phone. That takes a certain level of intimacy that most study abroad students don’t get over a summer. The solution to this is simple, show the spot to someone from the UK. Their response, I hope, would simply be “what’s a surcharge?”

The second cause of fault is cultural insensitivity. They figure “hey, it’s for American audiences, no one will ever know”. That is largely correct, but it comes dangerously close to that ethical line where you are leveraging a national/cultural stereotype, but incorrectly. Be careful here, folks. In the era of hyper-sensitivity ads like this have the potential to piss people off. Just imagine if this were done using Black or Mexican caricatures — oh, the letters you’d receive.

And finally, what do we think of the fact the ad, which up until the last 0:02 employs “snob” technique, switches to “reserve snob” when it is revealed that Sir Charge actually has a cockney accent? Ok, I get it, he’s pretending. But I think it’s just a cheap trick trying to cash in on the success of the Geico Gecko and the popularity of Michael Caine.

Maybe I’m just being nit-picky, but maybe folks need to do their homework. The British have a very rich history of self-deprecating comedy, but it only works in front of British eyes.