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Photo of a Detroit neighborhood—marketing to local trends in the wake of the 2016 election.

Local Trends: The 2016 Election Shifted Marketing Focus Toward Middle America

December 21st, 2016   ||    by Monta Monaco Hernon   ||    No Comments

Donald Trump’s election to the presidency in November served as a wake-up call for politicians and much of the media that middle America is dissatisfied. Advertisers, however, have also taken note and begun revamping their strategies according to local trends. “The election is a seminal moment for marketers to step back and understand what’s in people’s heads and what actually drives consumer choice,” Joe Tripodi, chief marketing officer, Subway, told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Real-World Goals

While ad spending has increased 12.3 percent over four years, recall is down 11 percent, according to US Campaign. Advertisements have traditionally focused on the presumed aspirations of the country—creative messaging has tied products to metro-area upper-class culture on the assumption that Americans share the goal of moving into that world. “Every so often you have to reset what is the aspirational goal the public has with regard to the products we sell,” Harris Diamond, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, also said to the WSJ, explaining that the takeaway is for marketing to show more of “Des Moines and Scranton.”

How does this play out in practice? Firms are talking about using personal interviews in addition to data as part of marketing research. Another idea under consideration involves recruiting more people from rural areas of the country and even opening agencies outside the big metro areas. Firm Droga5, for example, visited the Wisconsin headquarters of sausage company Johnsonville to talk with employees. “We really want to make sure we not just understand our demo, but the mind-set of the demo right now,” David Droga, creative chairman, told the WSJ.

The result of this strategic tinkering could be a down tick in ad spending in 2017; but in the end, local stations could benefit from a move toward more personalized messaging. Global brands seeking to meet consumers on their own turf with product positioning that reflects local trends might aim more ad dollars at broadcast stations.

Local Value

The evidence is there to prove the value of going local. Of the approximately 71 million viewers watching results trickle in on election night, almost 40 million were watching broadcast stations (and these Variety numbers don’t include PBS). During emergencies, like Hurricane Matthew recently, viewers trust local stations to provide potentially lifesaving information.

Family-viewing events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade serve up to 50 million viewers on broadcast TV. Advertisers can gain not only the sheer audience size, but also the goodwill local stations have built up with their viewers. The theory of the halo effect leads to the belief that the trust and sense of community created between broadcasters and those watching will carry over to advertisers.

National brands have already begun funneling some money into local ads, with total spend for 2016 expected to reach $60 billion. The effort has been made easier by programmatic platforms, which offer both data-driven ad buys and a measure of automation to TV advertising. But while programmatic technology can put a national brand in touch with consumers, creative has to be sure to match the right message to the right viewers.

The aftermath of the presidential election could see a shift to advertisements containing more real-world stories. “The election will have spooked the liberal elite away from high concept, ‘make the world a better place’ [advertising to] a more down-to-earth ‘tell me what you will do for me’ approach,” Robert Senior, worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, told the WSJ.

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