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The Heartland Consumer: Alien Being or Just a Regular Person?

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Amy Rohn

"A messy desk is the sign of a brilliant mind."

Ever since November 8 it seems that market researchers and ad agencies everywhere are falling all over themselves to try to understand the “heartland consumer.”

That elusive heartland consumer that doesn’t buy into coastal versions of cultural norms and who has pollsters and market researchers alike confounded. And all of the sudden it seems, it’s never been so popular to not be part of the New York and Los Angeles culture.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal dug into responses from leaders at some of the nation’s top ad agencies discussing things like their “immersive approach” to understanding the “mindset of their demo” and how their diversity programs might now include recruiting farm girls from Indiana (yes, I’m serious). Based in New York and Los Angeles, the article’s sources included some of the most well-respected creative and strategic leaders in our industry.

The article discussed the “rural, economically frustrated, elite-distrusting, anti-globalization voters” that everybody is clamoring to understand. For the record, that description does not apply to all of us in the heartland. Hell, statistically speaking it doesn’t apply to most of us. But apparently that is how this large swath of the country is viewed by the folks on the coasts who try to target us with ads for everything from cars to toilet paper.

All of this strikes this Madison-based (that’s in Wisconsin) agency partner as more than a bit laughable. We, the group of people described as “the heartland consumer,” are not some mythological society that has been hiding in the shadows for eons. We’ve been here all along, going about our daily business and yes, for the most part not buying into some elite coastal version of culture. Just like you, we put our pants on one leg at a time. It just so happens that it’s more likely that those pants were purchased at Kohl’s than at Brooks Brothers.

But here’s the thing…you don’t need a New York or Los Angeles agency to try to figure out the heartland consumer.

Especially since they seem to be having trouble doing so. There are dozens and dozens of award-winning agencies in the middle of the country that are doing amazing work, getting new clients, driving results and keeping clients happy. (And I’m not even talking about the big guys in Chicago and Minneapolis.)

And that consumer everybody seems to want to get to know? Guess what. We live with them, we work with them, we know them. They are our part of our daily existence. They teach our children. They work beside us. We shop together at the Hy-Vee (that’s a grocery store). We buy our minivans from them. We tailgate with them at Packers and Brewers games and share holiday meals. We celebrate successes and mourn losses with them. We are them.

Come see us. We would be delighted to share a bit about what it’s like to be heartland consumers at a heartland agency. And stay for the weekend – we’ll take you out for Friday fish-fry – another one of our quaint heartland traditions.

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