A Transplant’s Guide to Advertising in Houston
The observations of a South Dakotan trying to connect with Texans
I was standing in my parents’ driveway, holding one of many cardboard boxes in my arms, and staring at the tiny two-door sedan that was about to make a thousand mile journey to my new home. I had lived almost the entirety of my 23 years there in South Dakota, and life in America’s heartland was all I knew. While a rebellious, younger version of myself had adopted a punk rock look and attitude in an attempt to separate myself from the culture around me, that state of 850,000 people was my home. No amount of black eyeliner or screaming guitars could disguise the fact that the biggest attractions in my homeland included a palace made of corn and a giant drug store that has gaudy billboards advertising it stuck in the ground every few miles across I-90. Smiling as the memories flashed before my mind, I squeezed the last of my things into the car and settled in the driver’s seat for the longest drive of my life. I was venturing to the last place I ever thought I would end up. I was venturing to Texas.
Guns. Extreme heat. Ten-gallon hats. These images flashed through my head as I drove onto the interstate heading south. I knew these were stereotypes that had been painted by movie magic, but I couldn’t help but apply them to my future life. It was ridiculous, really. I wasn’t moving to a farm, I was moving to the capitalistic empire of Houston. How could I possibly entertain the idea that everyone would be walking around the country’s fourth-largest city with giant cowboy hats on their heads? My life in South Dakota seemed much more closely aligned to Texas stereotypes than Houston could ever be. These thoughts spun around my head as I became more and more unsure about what my future held. What were Houstonians actually like? What if I couldn’t connect with them? Would I ever be able to feel at home among them?
After seventeen hours of worrying and driving, I pulled my car and all of my belongings into the city limits. I settled into my apartment, found some cool restaurants, and attempted to acclimate to Houston living. After a short amount of time, I was lucky enough to find myself a copywriting job here at Versa Creative. My English degree gave me confidence in my ability to write and my media background only furthered my belief that I could be successful in an advertising setting, but my fear of not feeling at home in Texas took a scary turn. If I didn’t know how to connect with those in the Lone Star State, how could I possibly advertise to them? What does social media even look like in Houston? Would my professional career suffer due to my status as a transplant? With so much at stake, I became dutifully observant to Houston culture and what this meant for an outsider attempting to gain their business. While I’m not claiming to have all of the answers, here is what I have noticed so far.
Can’t Take The Heat
While many stereotypes are harmful exaggerations or flat-out falsities, every once in awhile they end up being completely accurate. One of these accuracies being that Houston is HOT. Sweat drips down my furrowed brow as I disdainfully scroll through my friends’ pictures of changing leaves and hot cider, longingly eyeing the sweaters buried deep within my closet. Luckily for me, however, Houstonians really do love their Tex-Mex and margaritas. My eyes almost popped out of my head the first time I saw a drive-thru margarita stop to offer their cold, delicious drinks to those of us suffering in 90 degree October weather—the best possible way to make the best out of a miserable situation. I don’t anticipate writing adverts urging people to put snow tires on their vehicles and get their winter survival kits prepped, but maybe a list of the best margarita recipes is in the future.
It’s also quite evident that Texans love, well, Texas. Driving on I-10, I couldn’t help but notice that the state flag is flying everywhere. Flagpoles, building walls, bingo sheets—everything is covered with the unmistakeable lone star. I even saw a lifted pickup truck speed down the highway with two flags flapping wildly in the wind. This type of state pride is unheard of in my neck of the woods. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s unheard of anywhere else in the country. Texans are proud of their heritage, and I’m quickly learning that effective advertising recognizes and respects the loyalty many natives feel to their state.
A True Melting Pot
When outsiders like myself think of Texans, many of us imagined Chuck Norris’ grizzled Texas Ranger Sgt. Cordell Walker. Rough and tough cowboy types with an arsenal of guns and Southern drawls. While these types of people do exist within the state’s boundaries, they certainly are not the only ones. Since my move, my eyes have been opened to all types of cultural diversity. If someone was to ask me to describe a typical Texan, I would have no idea what to tell them. Far from the very homogenous population of South Dakota, Texas, and Houston in particular, is a wonderful example of the melting pot of America. Advertising must be a reflection of this variety of lifestyles. One cannot boil down effective advertising in Houston to a simple formula unless that formula is simply “include a Texas flag wherever possible.” The fact of the matter is that living and experiencing Houston in all its diversity is the only way to connect and reach consumers.
While I started my journey from Sioux Falls, SD to Houston, TX with both all kinds of anxieties about making the 713 my new home, I’ve found myself slowly learning all the quirks and customs that make Houston the wonderful place it is. I am now confident in my ability to fit myself into the folds of the city in both my personal and professional life.
— Gabs Semansky