What if the entire qualitative and quantitative acumen of the World’s top advertising, research, media, and intelligence consulting shops suddenly began questioning the billions of dollars they had spent in mastering the ability to predict?  Well, as we now know, it happened.   Trump is the elephant that sits squarely in the room of every strategy, creative and intelligence board room today.  The popular phrase, “egg on your face”, couldn’t be more of an understatement.

In response, there have been several provocative industry articles recently that have attempted to bridge the reasoning for how everyone got it so wrong.  Inherent bias in pollsters, too much emphasis on demographics vs. personas, regional offices that only hold client services and not creatives.   For me, it really came down to one thing – and it just happens to be something VIMBY gets more than anything.

You just can’t fake local.

Little did we know that the major metropolitan cities in which many agencies, their media and creative teams reside, suffered from a big ol’ fat case of ethnocentrism.

I don’t believe that ‘pushing’ creative briefs and production orders downstream works when you are craving that authentic, undeniably-candid content that is so valued in today’s campaigns and entertainment content.    Flipping the standard model on its head and “pulling” or “fishing” ideas from our embedded creatives and strategy teams whom live in those same rural, middle-country markets, provides an honesty in our work that is painted with vibrant psychographic, cultured, personal and narrative strokes.

Since we have far reaching roots, and insights into the middle media vacuum of our country, we had a few hunches of course – that perhaps the rest of our colleagues hadn’t been accounting for the socialization and acculturation of the rural and middle country.  Where millions of often diverse populations actually DON’T want to be like the rest of us.  Can you honestly blame the retaliation against the heavy hand of forced message amplification, media frequency and the centrist position of the major media conglomerates? They have a justifiable desire to be listened to, as well as spoken to, “on their terms”.

Simply showing that new truck or mobile phone in a rural setting in Michigan, or slapping a few Latinos into that credit-card commercial in South Texas is overwhelmingly obvious to the middle America viewer. They have the same access to content we do – they can see through the smoke and mirrors.  For the millions of people that city-dwellers frequently referred to as unsophisticated, classless and uneducated – many would be surprised to see how progressive, technically advanced and communal they are.  Where do you think re-developing your downtown main street and farm-to-table comes from after all?  Nice of you to join them, Los Angeles.
The problem – a big colorful insights BLINDSPOT – that is missing from the spreadsheets, surveys and dashboards of CMO’s everywhere.

The documentary approach to research, creative and content creation is where I believe there lies an incredible opportunity.  Instead of gathering sound-bites and quick surveys from rushed store-goers running out of the local Winn Dixie, perhaps it’s time to spend a bit more time with people – and not worry so much about the news cycle that is consuming us.

My favorite story from 2016 regarded Berkeley Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild (author of Strangers in their own Land, Anger and Mourning of the American Right) who had explored over 5 years a number of small communities in rural Louisiana with the intent to gain a clearer perspective on the changing ‘experience’ of the middle.   In a recent article in the New Yorker,  journalist Benjamin Wallace Wells believes Hochschild’s experience forecast Trump’s incredible popularity.    If Hochschild  had undergone a simple dine and dash with the city-folk and didn’t spend  time peeling crawdads, hanging out in the local quick-mart and shedding her predisposed beliefs, I wonder if her predictions would’ve been the same.

Sometimes, you just can’t cheat local.