Kicking back at a waterpark…
As I write this I’m looking at a large man in some gaudy board shorts climb into a gantry that will drop him vertically a couple of stories through a tube. He emerges with said board shorts halfway down his butt while his family cheers. Earlier, I saw them sitting at a table nearby and I needed to know where they got the beer they’re drinking, so we started a conversation. The family is from Chicago, this is their big vacation – a few hot days at Wisconsin Dells with the fam. The man is a plumber, his wife works as a cashier at Walmart. The kids are covered in a red sugary substance. He’s debating whether to give the waterslide a whirl. I have to admit it looks a little scary, people come out if it looking like they’ve been flushed down a toilet, which I believe is the conceptual inspiration for the ride.
The plumber and his family are having fun.
Here’s the thing though. I don’t think there are a lot of other advertising people here. They’re all in Machu Picchu or cooling off in the Alps. Are we woefully out of touch?
This is a problem.
We’re paid to think differently and what goes with that is a different way of looking at the world. Here we sit with our hipster jeans and Chuck Taylors (no socks) working in our fancy towers or our cool loft spaces (with exposed brick of course), surrounded by Ping-Pong tables, beer fridges and Herman Miller chairs. And we’re busy – some would say overworked – so we rarely leave the comfort of our open work environments, rarely interact with anyone outside our social strata or even our workmates. Hell, we pat ourselves on the back if we get creative and account management to party together.
To put it in perspective, 42% of the people in America are country music fans, the most common job is a retail salesperson or cashier. The median household income is around $52,000.
We’re a little insulated, and because of this we often produce insulated campaigns.
Work that’s aimed at… us. Or at best, we produce work that glances off. Work that’s out of touch itself. It’s like a copy of a copy where the “target” is shown doing “target” stuff, talking like “the target,” dressing like the “target,” but it often doesn’t really ring true.
For instance, we know of Walmart, but we turn our nose up at it. We know of Aldi, but it’s only okay because it owns Trader Joe’s and they’re cool. Oh, it’s German? Even better. Ad people like German stuff. They make BMWs. But have you ever actually shopped at one of these places? Besides the time you were in Sanibel and needed some flip-flops?
Oh, sure, we get demographic data, psycographic data and cultural anthropology. Always helpful, but nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of doing your own discovery. Nothing takes the place of hanging out with the truck drivers, sales supervisors, construction workers, plumbers and school teachers.
This is why account planners often look at the work that you’re so proud of and wrinkle their noses. They’ve been out with the target, have been in their homes and met their kids and the work feels just 15 degrees off.
My suggestion to advertising people in general and creative people specifically: Get out in the world.
Shop at a Walmart. Hang out at the park across town. You know, the one where you really don’t belong. The place where people aren’t wearing pajama pants ironically. Go to Wisconsin Dells, Gatlinburg and Myrtle Beach. Strike up conversations with people about their kids, their lives, their houses. Buy something at Aldi and actually get in a discussion with the cashier. Ask when his or her shift ends and you’ll most likely get an entire life story.
When that person is in your head when you’re doing the next campaign for macaroni and cheese (the kind with powdered cheese) it will be better, more connected, more true, funnier, more insightful and ultimately, more effective.