by Kristin Brighton on June 5, 2012

To date, most of the work we’ve done at New Boston has been done in Kansas. We’ve conducted focus groups with people living in cities all across this vast state, and those hundreds of conversations have led us to two conclusions:

  1. The Wizard of Oz was the worst blow Kansas has ever taken. For every dollar it has brought into the state through Dorothy-related spending, we are confident it has cost us millions in lost opportunities in business development, residents, students and investors.
  2. The majority of Kansans are so humble that our own words and actions further damage our state’s identity. Kansas is home to beautiful places and innovative leaders — but the rest of the world thinks Kansas is nothing but wide-open, desolate farmland, plagued by daily tornadoes, flying monkeys and uneducated hicks. Kansans don’t do enough to dispel these rumors that have infiltrated popular culture….we are often the first to ask why others would want to visit or live here!

This second conclusion has led us to diagnose hundreds of cases of what we have named the “Kansas Inferiority Complex.” To properly describe this condition, it helps to compare Kansans to people who grew up in another state…like Texas. Every child growing up in Texas is indoctrinated from birth about how great Texas is, and nearly everyone we’ve met from Texas is proud to brag about life there. (Some might argue Texans take it a bit too far, but at least they’re consistent!)

But that’s not how Kansas kids are raised. While they may know the state bird is the meadowlark and the state tree is the cottonwood, most of us can hardly name a famous Kansan (besides Dorothy). Our state pride is pretty shallow. When Kansans travel, many hate having to tell folks where they live for fear of the Oz jokes. When Kansas businesses are featured in the national media, we’ve come to expect that the reporter will wear ruby slippers. We’ve humbly taken the stereotypes of Kansas portrayed in the media to heart.

The Wizard of Oz was released nearly 75 years ago...but nothing has been put into the public's front-of-mind awareness about Kansas to replace it!

Kansas has its good and bad sides like any other place on Earth. But we really do get a bad rap. Kansas is home to majestic landscapes, well-educated people, and hard-working entrepreneurs. We’ve got high-tech industry, beautiful urban skylines, and thousands of acres of prime agricultural land.

Kansans aren’t alone in what Lisa has started calling the KIC. Mutations of this complex can also be found among many of our brethren from other agriculture-focused, Midwestern states. (So, when did eating become un-cool?)

We certainly can rattle off many examples of how Hollywood promotes the spread of the disease. Those who have not traveled to the Midwest — and only know about us through TV and movies — think we are naïve simpletons destined for What Not to Wear:

  • Consider Eric Stonestreet’s character, Cameron, from Modern Family, who is constantly being mocked (by his partner Mitchell) for his absurdly over-the-top stories about his youth in Missouri. (Stonestreet, in case you don’t know, actually attended K-State in NBCG’s hometown and grew up around Kansas City.)
  • Who can forget Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie character in the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies?
  • Even Katharine McPhee’s character, Karen, on Smash — who later becomes the star — is lovingly nicknamed “Iowa” and teased for being green, innocent and inexperienced by her colleagues in the chorus!

The list goes on and on. Hollywood repeatedly makes Midwesterners the butt-of-the-joke underdog with a heart of gold and, in some cases, questionable personal hygiene.

(On the other hand, those of us who live in the center of the country often take for granted the good attributes ascribed to us — that we are honest, hard-working, and ethical. All those qualities form a good, solid foundation for recruitment of business and residents — we just have to do a better job leveraging them!)

Basically, when New Boston works with cities in smaller Midwestern markets, we talk a lot about the fact that community marketing has multiple goals. While you’ve got the initial goal that’s driving the project (economic development, tourism, resident recruitment, etc.), you should also see the project as having a secondary goal: boosting community pride.

A high-quality, eye-catching and beautiful/funny/sophisticated/charming television commercial or billboard promoting your town can do wonders for boosting your community’s self-esteem. Suddenly your eco-devo campaign can also transform the attitudes of your residents — and recruit them to be your project’s ultimate ambassadors!

This boost of community pride can have lasting effects that go beyond your campaign’s media run. Proud residents are more likely to raise proud kids who may consider staying in — or returning to — your town after they’ve completed their educations. Proud residents also complain less about investing in their community (and paying taxes to do so!), do a better job of keeping up their property, are more likely to shop locally, and are more engaged in leading and planning the community’s future.

So, if you’ve identified an inferiority complex in your community, don’t despair. Consider how a professionally created marketing campaign can help you achieve your community’s vision for the future — while also delivering the miraculous side effect of boosting your city’s self-image and overall quality of life.