For years, marketers have flocked to small markets to test products, advertising concepts or other marketing initiatives in the most representative microcosms they can find of the U.S. market. The trouble is that most of these markets are ethnically unbalanced compared with the U.S., usually with a larger proportion of whites than the nation as a whole.
Finding the perfect ethnic balance in any metro area is hard. Large coastal cities have above-average minority representation. Cities and towns in the Midwest or South are disproportionately white or African-American.
Wichita, Kan., a fairly common test market that's 8.6% African-American and 7.4% Hispanic, is more representative than most. But Wichita Falls, less commonly used for testing, is even more so.
In an Advertising Age review of 2000 Census data for all Metropolitan Statistical Areas, the north Texas town of about 140,000 was nearest the national norms for the two largest ethnic groups in the country-African-Americans and Hispanics. It's the only area to come within three percentage points of the national average for both groups.
Wichita Falls' population is 9.6% African-American, or 2.7 percentage points below the norm, but closer than most small markets. Its Hispanic population of 11.8% is only 0.7 points off target. Its Asian population of 1.7%, while substantially off the 3.6% U.S. norm, also comes closer than most small markets. And Wichita Falls' Native American population of 1.7% is nearly spot on the national average of 1.5%.
Subtract the roughly 36,000 residents in the rest of the MSA from the city of Wichita Falls, with 104,197 residents, and the place gets even more average, with a black population of 12.4%, Hispanic population of 14% and Asian population of 2.2%.
By other measures, Wichita Falls is also close to average. Its average household size of 2.5 is just off the national norm of 2.59. Median age is younger, at 33.6 vs. 35.3 nationally.
Even geographically, however, Wichita Falls is strangely symbolic-nearly spot on center in East-West terms but somewhat south of the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states, reflecting the shift in population to such Sun Belt states as California, Texas and Florida.
And though it's in the Southwest, it's only about 20 miles from the borderline Midwestern state of Oklahoma. Even the college in Wichita Falls has a perfectly generic-sounding name-Midwestern State University.