In the days immediately following the election, there were more than a few think pieces written by pundits trying to make sense of the results. The handwringing and soul searching mostly fell along the same themes.
One theme was based on the premise that there really are two Americas, a statement that is both ignorant and arrogant. There is one America. It is made up of hundreds of millions of people who don't all share the same political ideology of those in your zip code. Even those in your zip code don't all believe the same.
Another theme was that perhaps the media was one-sided in its coverage of the election and that they owe it as so-called truth-seekers to report facts objectively, rather than with bias. Moreover, giving one-sided praise to a candidate and their supporters while simultaneously painting an opposing candidate in the most extreme colors may have backfired. Most surprising to said editors and journalists was that highly intelligent people don't like confirmation bias. It's no fun to sit in an echo chamber. And despite the safe space crowd who shut down opinions they don't agree with, diverse viewpoints are actually a good thing. It should be noted these articles were few and far between, and that it is a safe bet to assume no solutions (if any were even proposed) will happen.
The third type of think piece simply asked "how could we get the data so very, very wrong." Out of the three think piece directions, this was the most insincere. It removed culpability of being biased by focusing on the data rather than those interpreting it. It seemed to say Don't blame us for being one-sided, and ignoring the different viewpoints and motivations in America, because numbers.
So now there is a renewed interest in the heartland or the flyover states, so-called because no one would dare land there, let alone live there, except as it turns out, they do, and they vote, and they vote differently than you expected.
Advertising, too, is trying to wrap its Snapchat Spectacled head around the results of the election. Or at least advertising agencies in those four or five cities in America who aren't part of the flyover states. Out of respect for former (and current) shops I won't share the all-agency emails that friends have sent me, but if you read the CEO of GrubHub's email, they aren't too dissimilar, in that they run the gamut of emotions. Livid. Whiny. Wistful. Hopeful. Declaring they are open and tolerant and celebrating diversity, while demonstrating intolerance for anyone who wasn't #WithHer for whatever reason. So it is no surprise today The Wall Street Journal has an article entitled Trump’s Win Has Ad Agencies Rethink How They Collect Data, Recruit staff. Again, with the data. The opening of the article sounds very similar to articles written about what went wrong in media coverage.
Advertisers are grappling with a stark realization: After spending years courting U.S. consumers with aspirational images of upscale urban living, they may have misjudged the yearnings of much of their audience.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president with a wave of support from middle American voters, advertisers are reflecting on whether they are out of touch with the same people—rural, economically frustrated, elite-distrusting, anti-globalization voters—who propelled the businessman into the White House. Mr. Trump’s rise has them rethinking the way they collect data about consumers, recruit staff and pitch products.
I don't fault the Wall Street Journal for assuming flyover states don't have cities and are only rural. In order to know what a state is like, you'd actually have to visit.
Still, the attempts on the part of executives from agencies like McCann show they are deeply worried. Not about upsetting the heartland of course, but in not being able to sell them product. And the way to do that, they think, is to change the marketing. As McCann's amazingly named CEO Harris Diamond puts it, "Marketing needs to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture....and more of 'Des Moines and Scranton.'” At least he didn't say Peoria.
I can't speak for McCann as it's one shop I've never worked for, but in the more than half dozen shops i have worked for, we had this thing called focus groups, where all the crystal ball guesswork was supposed to be eliminated in favor of straight talk. These focus groups don't just happen in the metropolis cities but in smaller ones like St Louis, Tulsa, Atlanta, Cincinnati. Cities in fly over states. I know these are not the preferred destinations of the Soho Grand/Shutters crowd because they bitch about having to go there, often with so much disdain you'd think they were being exiled for life. Perhaps this is why even in a situation where people are interviewing local inhabitants, they can still get it wrong. If you have so much disdain for this part of the country, the only outcome that will satisfy you is a confirmation bias that fits your brief.
At least with focus groups there are boots on the ground and a chance, however slim, that you might find and use an insight that resonates with people who are buying your product. On the opposite of the spectrum is ignoring the public completely in favor of your own group or worldview, which creates campaigns such as the stunningly bad work for Bud Light featuring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen. In that latter case I am reminded of SNL's biting satire against big city elitists who want to live in a literal bubble safely surrounded by groupthink in their 1.9 million dollar apartments.
The Wall Street Journal article goes on to say that this tipping point is causing agencies to include "rural,"people under the diversity umbrella.
Even as many ad agencies try to improve their gender and racial diversity, industry executives say they also need to ensure their U.S. employees come from varied socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds.
A diversity hire “can be a farm girl from Indiana as much as a Cuban immigrant who lives in Pensacola,” said John Boiler, chief executive of the agency 72andSunny, whose clients include General Mills Inc. and Coors Light. The agency plans to expand its university recruitment programs to include rural areas.
Leave it to 72andsunny to always figure out a way to get cheap labor.
Other executives showed they were still tone deaf. Robert Senior, Worldwide Chief Executive of Saatchi and Saatchi worried that the liberal elites in advertising will be scared away "from high concept, ‘make the world a better place’” advertising to “a more down-to-earth ‘tell me what you will do for me’ approach.” That sounds an awful lot like Mr. Senior is saying he thinks people in flyover states are too stupid to understand conceptual advertising or won't respond to aspirational advertising.
Hey, Bob-I grew up in a flyover state in Pittsburgh, a city 45 minutes outside of West Virginia. Can't get more rust belt or rural if you tried. But so did most of the people you hire who now live in the three or four big cities in America. Your attitude is not only elitist, but incredibly ignorant of what consumers want. To paraphrase David Ogilvy: The consumer isn't a moron; she lives in Montana. Try spending time in some flyover states and see how smart people are. (P.S. the local Ace Hotel doesn't count.)
But while agencies in New York and L.A. and San Francisco try to figure out how to lure creatives from the flyover states to their agencies, the agencies in flyover states should use this moment to their advantage. It may be hard for someone in New York to believe but great culture lives outside of Manhattan, be it art, music, literature, and advertising. Now's the time to push the boundaries in your own zip code and show the coasts what kind of advertising you can create. The Young and Larimore's, Deeplocal's Barkley's Richards and Martins and Carmichael Lynch's are already doing great advertising. There is absolutely no reason every state can't have at least one or two killer shops. And creatives, especially students--don't believe the hype that only the best advertising comes from agencies owned by holding companies in cities with expensive rent. They are full of it. The ads are no less mediocre, only more expensive.
Either way, take heart. "Rural," is back in style.