Aug 28, 2007

The Others

One of the more interesting things about the August vacation period is that it provides a rare opportunity for upper middle class New Yorkers and Angelenos to leave their bubbles and come into contact with The Others: that great mass of middle and working class America they otherwise insulate themselves from during the rest of the year.

The contact, worthy of a re-read of Paul Fussell’s seminal work, Class, often occurs at places like Disney and other theme/water parks their offspring have managed to drag them to. Beachside resort towns run a close second, though rising prices have managed to keep all but the upper end of the upper middle classes out of more easily isolated places like Nantucket and the Hamptons.

The initial reaction, especially in a hotel-like setting, is always the same. Mr. and Mrs. Senior Vice President realize that there are a number of families by the pool where the father is wearing jeans shorts and sporting decidedly non-tribal tattoos, the type commemorating the birth of a child or a friend killed in Iraq. There’s the whispered “This place costs $450 a night. How do those people afford it?” Followed by a reassurance that they must either have won some sort of contest or be putting the whole thing on a credit card that they’ll spend years trying to pay off.

What the Senior VPs don’t realize is that they’ve likely bumped up against the Upper Blue Collars: all those plumbers and electricians and contractors who’ve grown rich installing Brazilian cherry wood cabinets, recessed lighting, Tuscan stone tile and the like in their houses. And that those people, whose incomes are often way north of six figures, represent a very different America than the one they live in.

So the Senior VPs will watch in horror as the Upper Blue Collars suck down a six pack of domestic beer at 11 in the morning, scream at their kids for wanting the pink straw instead of the purple one (the Senior VPs inclination being to demand the waitress produce a pink straw, ASAP) and let their unacceptably corpulent bodies bake in the sun without benefit of several layers of designer SPF 100 sunscreen.

Putting comic possibilities aside for a moment (and believe me, it’s tempting to keep running with this) the point here again is one of Toad’s Tirades: Not Everyone Is An Upscale Urban 30something White Male Hipster. Because whether it’s an Upscale Blue Collar family at a Cape Cod hotel or an Actual Blue Collar family on line at Disney World, there’s a lot more of them than there are of us. All too often advertisers and marketers ascribe our narrowly focused tastes and desires to the mass of Americans: I don’t think Tim Allen is funny, ergo no one does. I would never eat at a chain restaurant, ergo people only eat there because they have no other choices.


We sell things for a living. And to sell them, we must be mindful of who we’re selling them to. Now I am not giving you a license to go out and do banal, insulting work because people in The Flyover Zone love Home Improvement and The Olive Garden. No. It’s a much harder task, actually. Create something that you’re proud of that they’ll actually like as well.

It is possible.


Jonathan Trenn said...

Brilliant post Toad. That encompasses the biggest complaint that I've had toward advertising.

Question: about what percentage of people that you work with are male? I thought it was a bit more evenly balanced.

I'm going to introduce you to a friend of mine via email.

toad's sixth reader said...

"the others!". hilarious. i remember when i left nyc for chicago and being shocked at the cultural differences. doing advertising for mainstream america from manhattan is a bit like doing it from iceland. i don't think it can be done.

i felt similar shocks when i attended my first NASCAR race (go dale junior!) and grateful dead concert. you start to realize that there are actually several americas. and it's not nearly as homogenous as an outsider - and i am one - might imagine.

Toad said...

@Jonathan: Thanks for the intro. Much appreciated.

As for your question: the various departments in an agency tend, by and large, to be primarily one gender or another, with the overall number being fairly even, maybe slightly more female

Creative is very male.
Account management very female
TV production is heavily female; web production somewhat less so, but still mostly female.
Media seems to be more of a mix.

The "Not Everyone Is An Upscale Urban 30something White Male Hipster" phrase is aimed at creatives.

Toad said...

@TSR: Few things are as funny as watching most creatives try and concept one of the many NASCAR-themed ads that clients call on them to do. Whether they're traditional or digital creatives, most of them can't seem to fathom why anyone would actually like NASCAR and the stereotypes that crop up of your typical NASCAR fan.

toad's sixth reader said...

i had a NASCAR epiphany a few years ago. i did Dale Earnhardt Jrs inaugural Budweiser spot. i knew nothing about it, so i had to immerse myself in NASCAR for a few weeks. i learned that nobody follows the sport. they follow THEIR driver. dale was young and cool (his dad had just been killed in a race). then i read a rolling stone article where dale was asked if there was one thing he could change about NASCAR, what would it be? he replied "i'd put music in the cars". that became the spot. dale trying to clean a dirty CD while going 150 mph. it was voted best NASCAR spot of the year by 300,000 nascar fans on couldn't believe it.

Dale was cool to work with. Offered to take us to a club where he was meeting some Miami dolphin cheerleaders after the shoot. perhaps unbelievably, we turned him down. we were tired!

toad's sixth reader said...

it's on youtube. of course. crap quality but you get the idea.