European advertising, its aesthetics, institutions and its central organisations, the advertising agencies, were profoundly changed by the arrival of American advertising agencies during the inter-war period. Supported by industrial clients who demanded global communications campaigns, and based on new forms of professional advertising management, these agencies soon dominated the course of European advertising history. During the 1960s, the influence of American advertising agencies began to wane, and global advertising increasingly followed new trends that originated in Europe. This article searches for the origins of this remarkable change of direction. In doing so, it compares the cultural-economic development of major European advertising industries from the immediate post-war years to the twenty-first century. It can be shown that the European advertising industries followed ‘non-American’ pathways in their development, which combined an emphasis on creativity with radically new forms of advertising production and agency management. As a result, successful advertising agencies today look less like American full-service agencies, and much more like the smaller European agencies of the type that had emerged between the world wars. The article discusses these findings in the light of the often-applied term ‘Americanisation’.