In Defense of “Flyover Country” – The Dangers of Disrespecting Your Audience

By Egotist / /

Geography often leads to misunderstanding, rivalry and resentment. This is true whether you’re speaking of fiction or non-fiction. In “Game Of Thrones” terms, the Citizens of King’s Landing look down their noses at the citizens of Winterfell. The citizens of Winterfell look down their noses at the Wildlings from Beyond the Wall, and so on.

Here in the real world there is a prevailing perception that somehow the residents of “Flyover Country” are not as culturally in-tune or sophisticated as their coastal cousins.
As sure as the sun rises in the east, there will seemingly always be forward-thinking coastal urbanites falling into this easy trap. As evidence of this superiority, those on the coasts point to their farm-to-table restaurants, fixed-gear bicycles, and their access to artisanal, locally sourced, fair-trade almond paste.

Coastal trendsetting is over
In the old days, city dwellers such as these had the advantage of discovering new music, food trends or art before the rest of the country. But a funny thing happened in the 90s. And that thing is called ‘the Internet— a.k.a. the great equalizer. Today, there is virtually nothing of any cultural merit that cannot be investigated, read about or absorbed through the Internet from any place on earth. Even Ohio.

The monopoly on coastal trendsetting, if it ever existed in the first place, is over. And it’s been over for a long time.

Intelligence has nothing to do with geography
Nonetheless, everyone from account planners to media pundits tend to talk about the Midwest the way Captain James T. Kirk once talked about space. That is, as “the final frontier.”

But as Captain Kirk learned time and again, geography does not have any correlation to intellect. Besides, as the saying goes, we all have to come from somewhere.

And if you look at the fabric of American history, you’d be hard-pressed to find a facet of culture, art, politics, industry or science that has not been greatly influenced by one of these Middle-American rubes. Have a gander at this random smattering of talents, past and present. These aren’t people that just represent Middle America, they represent the best of America itself.


Not even Silicon Valley can escape the reach of “Flyover Country.” In fact, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey all hail from our country’s nether regions. And thanks to Mmidwesterner Larry Page, you can Google that.

Mind you, these people didn’t become smart or talented by virtue of heading to one of the coasts and smelling the salt water. Somehow, someway, these hayseeds made it through the corn maze to become the powerful, creative and intellectual forces that they are by growing up in the alleged backwaters of Middle America.

So what’s the point?
Why am I making such a fuss about this? It is not just a matter of my Midwestern pride, even though admittedly it runs deep. No dear friends, I make a fuss about it because of this:

Disrespecting your audience is a recipe for creating terrible things—whether it’s a book, a song, a movie, a TV show, a product or yes, even an ad. Think about it. If you’re cooking a meal for someone you dislike, how delicious is the meal really going to be?

Respecting Your Audience Works
Years ago, the TV networks sealed their own demise with this disrespect for the audience. Year after year they churned out laugh-track riddled, formulaic dreck that made network television watching virtually unbearable. Why did they do it? Because they thought it was the only thing the dimwitted Midwestern automatons could understand. The movie industry was no better.

As a result, premium channels like HBO and Showtime were left struggling with their customer offerings. But someone at these networks recognized that this situation offered a gigantic opportunity. So instead of dumbing things down, they wised up. They offered stories with high-production values that were wildly complicated, inventive and nuanced.

Shows like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Game of Thrones” (written, directed and co-created by D. B. Weiss) are renowned for their surprising plot twists and for breaking the traditional formula of storytelling. Where the networks failed by assuming the worst of their audiences, these shows succeeded by assuming the best of them.

What can advertising learn from HBO?
Having respect for the audience is quintessential for those on the creative side of advertising, but it is equally if not more important for those on the client side of advertising. All too often it is the tendency of those in the business to grind down ideas and leave no sharp edges behind for fear that they might polarize or require too much brainpower to understand. The result of this is the trend to make everything cheaper, faster and dumber; the industry is lowering its standards exactly when it should be raising them. Many marketers have fallen into the trap of the traditional TV networks, which is to say they are focusing on the quantity of content instead of the quality of it.

In a media environment where encountering advertising is largely optional, the brands that behave confidently, take pride in what they’re making and give their audiences credit are the ones that will be embraced. Because in any creative endeavor, success boils down to not just a love for the idea itself, but out of a love and respect for those who are to receive it.

So if you’re in the business of creating, that’s a lesson that bears repeating…no matter where you’re from.

(Oh, and by the way, D.B. Weiss is also from “Flyover Country.” Underestimate us at your peril.)

Tom Scharpf is a Midwestern mutt who spent his youth in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Minnesota. Scharpf began his career at Fallon Minneapolis and has spent the last ten years at Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco.


  1. teri cundall September 21, 2015

    A fantastic read, thank you!
    A fantastic read, thank you! If it isn’t already, the word of the year will be “Empathy”. I hope it will replace “Tolerance”. We have crossed the line of cultural appropriation, public dimishment and condescending. I’m reminded everyday that “advertising” aka branding and marketing, has the passive power to raise the intelligence and understanding bar; not just for some brands, but across all products and services. This industry has so much influence, what can we do with it? Good.

  2. Anonymous September 28, 2015

    just kidding, good


    just kidding, good article.

  3. Anonymous October 1, 2015

    For every Warren Buffet and
    For every Warren Buffet and Kurt Vonnegut (Jon Hamm, really?) there are thousands that support the Confederate flag, the right to bear automatic weapons, anti-gay measures, racism and creationism.

    These backwards ideals exist on the coasts as well. Intelligence and ignorance exist everywhere. It doesn’t take many miles out of SF to find ignorance in mass.

    Point is, this is not so much a coast vs flyover thing as a city vs country thing. Chicago is more enlightened than Barstow, CA and San Francisco is more so than rural Mississippi. Anywhere that education and diversity are not valued, you will find these backwards audiences that marketers and mass entertainment execs feel the need to talk down to.