Trump's Win: Ad Agencies Must Address Middle America

Affluent millennials and other consumers living on the coasts have long been the focus of advertising campaigns. But a wave of support from Middle America that helped put Donald Trump in the White House was a wake-up call.

It signaled to ad agencies they are missing an opportunity to connect with millions of consumers.

Every so often, agencies must reset the brand's goal to reach the public, Harris Diamond, McCann CEO,told The Wall Street Journal. He said that too many marketing programs focus on "metro elite imagery." Campaigns need to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture and more of Des Moines and Scranton.

The WSJ points to data as a big issue. Marketers are concerned that data isn't telling them the whole story and think it will help to hire more people from rural areas as they rethink advertising and marketing strategies.

Rob Griffin, chief innovation officer at AlMighty, partially agrees. He told Media Daily News that the ad industry "totally" lost touch with the heartland of America.



"Marketers are learning from the election results that they base decisions off incomplete data, leaving a large amount of lost opportunities" on the table, Griffin said. "Think about third-party data services and other mechanisms we use daily. It's largely from the coasts and major urban areas. There is a whole lot of people in the middle that aren't represented properly."

While some point to data, others say the message in campaigns simply got lost in translation as the U.S. ships and outsources manufacturing jobs overseas and more Americans feel disenfranchised from the workforce. 

It's not as big surprise to Chris Copeland, president at Yieldbot, and former GroupM Next chief digital officer, who shared research from Yieldbot.

He said the company used its intent data from more than 1,000 publishers to identify the strong sentiment around Trump and the topics he talked about. It wasn't always positive, but neither was the talk around Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, especially across social sites, he said.

"As an industry, this should remind us to think about the need of the consumer, not the need of the industry or the brand," Copeland said. "We continually hear about millennials who love brands that stand for something. Then the behavior pattern from advertisers is to focus on reach and frequency. We focus on whether someone saw the ad rather than whether they actually need the product."

He believes there is an opportunity to better understand consumer motivation and intent rather than trying to move product.

10 comments about "Trump's Win: Ad Agencies Must Address Middle America".
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  1. Andrew Eklund from Ciceron, November 22, 2016 at 7:52 a.m.

    I think the answer is "Well, it all depends." Is your client attempting to reach "middle" America? (This is a term I take mild offense to, considering I'm smack in the middle of Minneapolis, a city by all definitions is as urban and sophisticated as any coastal city.) What about when television becomes as targeted as, oh, say email? If a product has appeal to a rural consumer by different attributes as it does to an urban consumer, who's to say we advertising professionals shouldn't simply elevate those attributes through better messaging and targeting? 

    Both rural and urban consumers received their news about the candidates through non-traditional channels, namely social media where targeting is beyond alive and well. I think the challenge confronting agencies has more to do with how to pursue media types beyond television, not as much rural vs. urban.

    Finally, I have to come back to this "Middle America" take. It's not. Every urban area in nearly every state was surrounded by red counties and voters. The electoral map was clear about this. If my memory serves me well, the only non-urban counties in the country that went solidly blue was the arrowhead counties of my state, Minnesota. But then again, we were the only state who voted for Walter Mondale.

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, November 22, 2016 at 8:23 a.m.

    Marketers, don't just hire people from rural areas, go there! Seriously, how many of your creative directors and strategists and senior executives are really from New York or LA? But when you move there, you drink the kool-aid. Also, Des Moines and Scranton are not "rural." They are in close proximity to rural areas, but they are cities. 

    It's not that marketing decisions are necessarily based on incomplete data, although the digital media ecosystem shows its flaws in data it generates that is based on incomplete and spurious media interactions. Rather it's processed through a biased viewpoint that looks to confirm coastal opinions of sentiment and intent ("How could anyone not vote for Hillary?").

    If you want to learn about America, you can't just read about it, you can't "see" it in data, and you can't get other people to do it for you. Get out there. 

  3. George Parker from Parker Consultants, November 22, 2016 at 9:14 a.m.

    Let’s do the $450 tasting menu at “Masa,” while we discuss how best to sell canned tuna to an unmarried mother of three living in a Mississippi trailer park… And I ain’t making this sh*t up.  

  4. Andrew Eklund from Ciceron replied, November 22, 2016 at 9:29 a.m.

    That was beautiful, George. :)

  5. Mark Stewart from Townsquare Media, November 22, 2016 at 9:54 a.m.

    Localism matters. At Townsquare Media we've spent the last 6 years building a scaled local multi- media company focused primarily on small-to-mid size markets across America's heartland. What we have learned is that every market has its own unique demography, economy, interests, values, opportunities and challenges. We have learned that cookie-cutter doesn't connect and doesn't work. In advertising to Middle America or Anywhere America marketers, like politicians, need a powerful communications ground game to win. Marketers need to leverage community, context and local relevance to demonstrate to consumers that "you know me, and you know what I and people like me in my community need". At Townsquare Media we focus on helping our clients connect national brands to local communities. Local is the new national and relevance is the new reach. For marketers looking to win local consumers simple things like local relevance, local terminology, and local accents matter.       

  6. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health replied, November 22, 2016 at 10:09 a.m.

    I feel like I've just been "marketed to."

  7. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 22, 2016 at 12:28 p.m.

    There is another part to this conversation that is being left out. This is the true inflation rate.  Gasoline and health insurance is not figured within inflation numberes.  Thereby the true cost of living is not accurate for the working middle class. In short, we are seeing numbers we that fit the narative instead of the real world.

  8. Tom Muscarello from DePaul University replied, November 22, 2016 at 12:47 p.m.

    George Parker has it spot on.

    I have been in many situations like this in many industries. My favorite story arises from time on faculty at a large med school. (Informed consent allowed me to sit in with doctors and their patients for our project. I was working up some technology enabled educational tools to help train residents working in mentors' offices.) The doc discussed diet choices with an inner city mother of 4 living on food stamps stating, among other things, that she needed to serve swordfish or salmon weekly. I later asked him where he thought she would find this fish in her inner city neighborhood (we now call them food desserts), how she would afford it, and if he thought it was on her family's palate. His response: "I am her doctor. She should follow orders."

    This is the attitude of all know-it-all elitists. It emanates from out of touch coastal elites and works its way into other urban and would-be urbane settings. To the elite if you are not in Manhattan, DC, LA or the Valley your city is a cowtown. There were many non-coastal metro areas that were not all that in to Hillary. Maricopa County is supposedly the most Trumpish county in America. It is why Hillary Clinton and the media/ DNC/Marketing crew were so aghast & surprised at the election outcome. They didn't know the territory outside their sanctuaries & echo chambers, and had no idea at how badly they had pissed off the "deplorables" and "folks." This last term, one of Obama's frequent nods to the hoi polloi. ("Such affability. such condescension!" to quote Mr. Collins. Such tone-deafness!)

    The continuing response by the elite to this cataclysmic, totally unexpected event lead me to believe that they still don't get it.

    Watch for big drops in traditional media ad spend in the next presidential election (probably in 2 years at congressional level). Social media will be that much more important. That is probably why Facebook and others are trying to ban what they call "fake news", something that exists only in the eye of the beholder, & helps the non-elite choice. But you can't ban news/commentary from the new social/alternative media. You can shut down a "social news purveyor." But who gets to determine media credentials in a digital social world? People will still broadcast news to their friends and contacts. YouTube is the new go-to for this "fake news." There are already new social media sites popping up that will serve as the social equivalent to Fox News.

    Also, mark this. The traditional process for presidential debates is toast. A candidate wants to debate the opposing candidate not the candidate, moderator and media panel. Trump has shown that this didn't work. He will never agree to the stacked deck, should he run again. Neither will any Republican candidate. There will have to be a new non-partisan way of managing any debates. Social media debates anyone? Figure out how to do it and own the territory.

  9. Norman Bendell from Bendell Studio, November 22, 2016 at 1:18 p.m.

    Some things never change, but the disconnect between major metropoitan agencies and the American heartland has never been more clearly defined.  The problem I've witnessed is that the agency people live and work in an environment different than much of the country.  They share ideas with each other and often don't have any understanding (or have forgotten) what it's like outside their shell.  As an Art Director new to Manhatten, I was once discussing creative concepts with a writer who told me my attitude was provincial.  I asked him if he had any idea who our target audience's not the provinces, it's the heartland of America.  He was a guy who had grown up in the elitist New York metropolitan environment and had never spent any time in what he considered the 'provinces'.  He had no idea what our target audience, mainland America, was all about.  They aren't just a bunch of uneducated blue collared rednecks.  They're quite diverse in every way and have real issues that need to be approached with understanding, honesty and respect.  That's what Trump's campaign recognized and taped into.  It's also what many agencies that live in their own little world have forgotten or ignored.

  10. George Parker from Parker Consultants, November 22, 2016 at 4:07 p.m.

    Tom nailed it with... "I am her doctor. She should follow orders." When you work in a corner office on the 50th floor, have your limo service drop you off for Pilaties classes before dinner at NoBu, and helicopter out to the Hamptons for weekends... "Middle America" may as well be "Middle Earth." See you at the King Cole bar for "teenies." Cheers/George 

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