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.

Wrong.

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.

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