Cultural Bias Clouds Communications

Spurred on by hurricane coverage, Experiential Marketing guru, Katherine Stone, asks, “Do I seem stupid to you?” in a poignant defense of her native Southland.

I was born in Baton Rouge. I lived in New Orleans for the first decade of my life. I spent my summers in Mississippi with my grandmother in Vicksburg. I now live in Georgia. I’m a true Southerner, and proud of it.
Let me assure you much of the South is nothing like the recent portrayal by Christopher Hitchens in his article My Red-State Odyssey in the September 2005 issue of Vanity Fair. Hitchens makes sure to mention NASCAR, creationism, gun ownership, the confederate flag, and lest we forget, [Southerners] offenses against chastity with either domestic animals or (the fact must be faced) with members of their immediate families. That about covers it! Thanks Chris!
Thats it. I’ve had enough. The truth is, until now, almost nobody has given a crap about Louisiana and Mississippi. Or Alabama for that matter. Admit it. They never have. These states get little investment and little attention. They’re red states, God forbid. They’re even referenced in political discussions as “flyover” states — as though they’re simply taking up space between the important places. Their residents are considered poor and uneducated and oddball, and the rest of the United States usually uses them as the punch line in jokes. It’s simply unfair.
During the height of the last election, I actually sat in a marketing meeting at a major corporation next to an account planner who said she thought only residents of New York and Los Angeles should be allowed to vote for the president of the United States — as if the rest of us have no business choosing our government. Enough already. The people of the South and the rest of the “flyover” U.S. are regular, hardworking people and in most ways are no different than everyone else. The stereotypes need to end, as they only serve to perpetuate the feeling that money and resources would be better spent elsewhere. I have lived throughout the South, as well as in New York and DC. There’s no more or less stupidity or quirkiness in the South than there is anywhere else, I promise you.

Of course, my Midwestern state is equally maligned. And like Katherine, I’ve lived in the coastal cities–Philly, D.C., San Francisco and Portland–and experienced the same kind of geo-cultural snobbery. At the fancy schmancy East Coast liberal arts college I attended, one fellow student asked me if they had paved roads out there. It seems the very people who claim cultural superiority based on their obvious intelligence and sophistication are often just dumb asses.
What does any of this have to do with advertising?
It has everything to do with advertising. How can cultural elites, or industry elites for that matter, truly relate to “average” Americans?
Dean Gemmell in Michigan wrote this in an email the other day about Advertising Week, a topic we’ve basically passed on.

Could this whole New York-centric (and I used to work there?) be any more hopelessly out of touch? I’m sure I’ll be writing about it a lot this week the material is just too rich.

Personally, I feel better equipped to make authentic communications, having been brought up in the bread basket. “Will it sell in Peoria?” Quick. Ask someone from Peoria.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.