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After Trump Win, Ad Agencies Are Clueless How To Market To Middle America

by | Nov 21, 2016 | Marketing, Strategy, The Economy, Trend Tracker

Donald Trump’s election taught politicians several valuable lessons but politicians aren’t the only ones learning valuable lessons from Trump’s stunning victory as advertising agencies have also been forced to admit that they have no idea how to market to the Midwest.  As the CEO of McCann Worldgroup pointed out the Wall Street Journal, Trump’s victory highlighted the error of gearing marketing programs exclusively “toward metro elite imagery” saying that future efforts need to incorporate a bit more “Des Moines and Scranton” and a little less NYC and Los Angeles.
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.
“Every so often you have to reset what is the aspirational goal the public has with regard to the products we sell,” said Harris Diamond, McCann’s CEO. “So many marketing programs are oriented toward metro elite imagery.” Marketing needs to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture, he said, and more of “Des Moines and Scranton.”
Like the large hedge funds and investment banks of wall street, most the people employed by the large, successful ad agencies happen to reside in NYC and Los Angeles.  And, while those offices are well staffed to target consumers in the large metropolitan cities of the U.S. , they are uniquely unqualified to speak to the hearts and minds of people living in the “flyover” states that they loathe to visit.  As one advertising CEO points out, a diversity hire “can be a farm girl from Indiana as much as a Cuban immigrant who lives in Pensacola.”
Some marketers, concerned that data isn’t telling them everything they need to know, are considering increasing their use of personal interviews in research. Meanwhile, some ad agencies are looking to hire more people from rural areas as they rethink the popular use of aspirational messaging showcasing a ritzy life on the two metropolitan coasts. One company is also weighing whether to open more local offices around the world, where the people who create ads are closer to the people who see them.
“This election is a seminal moment for marketers to step back and understand what is in people’s heads and what actually drives consumer choice,” said Joe Tripodi, chief marketing officer of the Subway sandwich chain.
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.
Like the pollsters who completely missed Trump’s victory, advertising agencies admit that their customers will likely reduce spending over the next several months as everyone “re-calibrates” their models to reflect the fact that not everyone lives in NYC, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Advertising executives also said the surprising outcome to the election would likely hamper advertising spending next year, as marketers try to figure out what implications the new administration’s decisions will have on businesses.
WPP’s GroupM, the largest ad buying firm in the world, had been anticipating U.S. ad spending would grow 3% to $183.9 billion next year. Kelly Clark, global CEO of GroupM, now said he anticipates ad spending growth in the U.S. will likely decline a few percentage points over the next six months. “We do believe that investment decisions will be delayed,” said Mr. Clark.
If agencies internalize the societal changes the election reflected, the content or tone of advertising could change, some ad executives predicted.
“The election will have spooked the liberal elite 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” said Robert Senior, worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, a creative firm owned by Publicis Groupe.
Isn’t it just glorious to see the Ivy League-educated, coastal elites admit that they know absolutely nothing about roughly 50% of the people residing in their own country?