What Advertisers Need to Know About Values in Rural America Today

Saatchi & Saatchi NY hits the road for an extensive study

The agency traveled to 13 states to discover how small town America really feels. Saatchi & Saatchi NY
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With 81 percent of Americans living in urban areas, Saatchi & Saatchi New York spent last summer conducting a survey in 13 states and 30 small towns across the country—from New Hampshire to New Mexico. The goal was to discover more about middle America, from how residents like to shop to what their day-to-day lives are like.

“In part we did this study because we saw a lot of mid-country values that were emerging in the market,” Wanda Pogue, Saatchi & Saatchi chief strategy officer, said. “When you have clients like Walmart, understanding rural America is critically important.”

Over the summer the agency’s research team embarked on a cross-country road trip, speaking to over 1,000 Americans of all ages, incomes and ethnicities along the way. At the end of the journey, the agency pulled together 10 truths that it discovered through these interviews and what marketers and agencies can learn from them.

One of the first themes the agency found through its research was a “renewed sense of self” among small towns. “We saw this widely through the election. People might assume government and other big institutions can and should provide people with the things they need to progress,” Eve Pollet, trends and innovation strategist, said. “The truth is rural America is more independent.”

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed agreed they need to put themselves first, while 96 percent believe having the right tools to be self-sufficient is key in today’s marketplace. Based on those findings the agency suggests that marketers who “enable independence and give them the keys” will be the ones to build trust with these consumers.

Ninety-five percent of people surveyed said having a sense of pride in where they currently live, not just their country of origin, is important.

Another cultural assumption Saatchi’s team discovered was that many people believe that with the rise of machines, no one needs anything handmade. However, the agency learned 86 percent of people prefer handmade products because “they symbolize skill, craftsmanship and authenticity.”

The idea of innovation and technology struck a chord with small-town America too. When some people think of innovation, their minds go to Silicon Valley, but for rural towns that is a point of contention. Saatchi found that while Silicon Valley can inspire innovation for some, people in small towns believe good ideas can come from anywhere.

Along those lines, 96 percent feel that small-town innovation deserves more recognition, while 87 percent said they would rather support a small, local brand than a tech giant or conglomerate.

“Innovation is about great problem solving no matter where it’s from,” Pollet said. “Marketers need to recognize diverse problems at local levels and demonstrate how their brands provide solutions. They can also invite and recognize new innovation and ideas. Now more than ever people want their voices to be heard and they want to feel an impact.”

Pride of place is another important lesson from the study. While some feel that ethnicity and heritage is a persons’ greatest source of pride, small-town America generally feels most proud of where they live (whether that is the town, community or country).

In fact, 95 percent of people surveyed said having a sense of pride in where they currently live, not just their country of origin, is important. “The marketer takeaway here can be to celebrate these small town origins through an event or product and celebrate this pride of place, maybe even showcase a quirky local tradition that can give brands a unique advantage and give consumers something tangible to be prideful of and to display their pride. There are many ways again that brands can do that,” Pollet said.

Added Pogue: “To some extent, this was on a small scale ‘America first.’ A lot of what we were hearing was that you need to be prideful in where you come from. To some extent that was America, but also these small towns that feel like they’ve been a little forgotten and people who feel like what they have in their backyards is worth celebrating and noting and vividly putting out there.”

You can find all 10 takeaways in the infographic below.

@ktjrichards katie.richards@adweek.com Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.