Happy Trails: Horizon Study Examines Resurgent Appeal Of The American West

From the popularity of Yellowstone to the success of the Red Dead Redemption games, the iconic American West is experiencing a cultural revival driven by interest among younger, more diverse audiences, according to a new study by Horizon Media.

Western themes and narratives hold particular appeal among women, those who are left-leaning, BIPOC and the affluent, per the study, which finds the trend is fueled by desire for escape, fantasy and the “lure of being a modern outlaw.”

The study, “Charting The Wild West – The Rise Of The New Western Narratives,” is based in part on a survey of 1,000 adults 18+ who watch Westerns.

76% of respondents to the survey from all backgrounds and political affiliations said they watched Westerns because they “want to escape to a place that had more land, peace, space and privacy.” Five in ten respondents said they were drawn to both classic and newer Westerns because they “like watching the lives of outlaws and people who break the rules in the name of honor.”



The study also found that younger audiences expect American narratives, such as Westerns, to in effect re-write history to represent their own identity. 78% of respondents said they want traditional stories reframed to reflect what they see as a breakdown of America’s politics, culture and economic traditions.

The analysis also found that:

  • · Fans of the Neo-Western genre skew younger, are more diverse, Democrat, Female, BIPOC and affluent
  • · 18-34s are 21% more likely to watch a recent Western than the general population
  • · 66% of BIPOC viewers make up Neo-Western audiences
  • · In a world where content has never been more polarizing, the Western genre is seen as also embracing a middle ground, with programs such as Deadwood, Westworld and Yellowstone straddling classic elements and that of neo-Westerns
  • · Those who are new to the Western genre tended to like more genre-bending shows like Little AmericaConcrete Cowboy, and Bless this Mess, drawn in by stories with complex characters where the lines between good and bad are blurred.

“Westerns are providing a great escape, as many people are still struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic,” said Maxine Gurevich, SVP Cultural Intelligence, Horizon Media.

“Vast landscapes and open spaces have become aspirational, even to coastal elites,” she added. “At the same time, living in a cancel-culture world, many are anxious about the constant pressure to be politically correct or censor themselves. They wish they could react in the sometimes violent or threatening way TV characters do. The desire to speak in such an unfiltered manner is a modern version of being an ‘outlaw.’”

The study also offers advice on how brands can incorporate the new popularity of things western into marketing programs, such as reflecting Western aesthetics in broader culture.  One example: A food brand could create highway billboards of people picnicking in a Western setting (e.g., ranch, barn, front porch, etc.) to create a connection between food waste and preservation of the environment. Partnering with an environmental group to increase sustainability efforts in meat production could help add credibility to such an effort.

Brands might also include diverse perspectives and identities in marketing content as westerns offer a way to spotlight stories about America featuring people and perspectives that have previously been erased or whitewashed. Example:  A brand with aligning values could partner with a news program to produce stories from people across America that embody the spirit of the West – local business owners, activists or volunteers, who fight like “outlaws” in the name of justice but often go uncredited. Videos could live online and become a traveling exhibition displayed in high-traffic spaces like train stations or airports.

More examples and the full report can be accessed here.



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