Getting real about marketing and motherhood

marketing to mothers


If you believe the advertising, the world is populated with yummy mummies. They drive SUVs, like baby-and-me yoga, smile indulgently at their messy toddler whilst wearing breton t-shirts and cute ballet flats, and have a healthy and delicious meal on the table for hubby when he gets home at the end of the day.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.


Why is portraying the reality of parenthood so hard for brands?

While parenthood is easy to identify and it’s a trigger for significant life changes, segmenting the target market down to meaningful groups to target is a challenge that few brands embrace, for fear of narrowing their audience too much, or simply not recognising the diversity. As a result motherhood can get treated as a homogenous state where in reality there is huge variety amongst mothers. 

But communicating to ‘mass mummies’ simply misses the mark. You also see it in the categorisation of women as Mumpreneurs or Mommy Bloggers (really, Carolyn Creswell of Carman’s Muesli is a Mumpreneur?)  Businesses that are quick to recognise trends within the wider target market often fail to explore deeper insights, meaning either women don’t connect with the message, or in the worse case can actually do themselves brand damage. 

A well-known example was a US painkiller called Motrin, who ran an ad portraying babywearing as a fad and mocking those who made this choice, rather than respecting the view that attachment parenting is a well-considered and proven approach to parenting. 


The result was a major social media fail, with the topic trending on Twitter, bloggers boycotting, and mass media reporting on the incident.


But surely, isn't all advertising meant to be aspirational?

Brands know that the birth of a baby is a key time when new purchase habits are formed, and 'know, like, buy' is still a tried and tested formula to drive brand loyalty. Certainly all mums want to be better rested, spend less time on the grind of nappy changes and clothes washing, and have more time to enjoy their baby. So while businesses know that there is more to parenthood than the glow, they know the easy way in is to demonstrate that their product makes life better.

Advertisers conduct lots of market research to uncover what will make parents buy. One universal insight that does exist is that new mothers fear judgement - and brands generally get this. They are also very aware that guilt is a strongly felt emotion too. Unfortunately this is often played up too much in an attempt to push a sale - the suggestion that if we don't buy, we are letting our kids down.  

And yet, bucking the aspirational trend can work. Fiat UK did an awesome ad all about the reality of motherhood. I'm not sure mums would be buying that car (seriously, could you fit a car seat in it?) but the humour definitely connects.



But if we show the reality, won't we turn parents off?

The birth of a new child is a time of hope – parents have a lot of expectations and aspirations for their kid, balanced against concern for their future health and happiness. It’s a tricky job portraying the real reality (not just the common 'kids are messy', 'toddlers play games at nappy change times') without risking taking a bit of the glow off those dreams. Brands will be reluctant to do anything that could get parents offside or appear critical or know-it-all even at the risk of being predictable.

Huggies does manage this well, by focusing on the perfection of babies, and on memorable moments rather than trying to feature the parent.


Brands who want to show a more real take on parenthood know that women are far more likely to trust other parents than brands. The benefit of this is that it allows the reality of life in the trenches to be shown without judgement. Avent did it with this video which is almost like the end result of an hour of desperate Googling “why won’t my baby go to sleep!” 


Personally I think ‘adorable’  in the video title is a bum note – ‘effective’ would be far more accurate and sympathetic to the mindset of someone searching for a sleep solution.


What about dads? Don't they warrant a mention? 

While dads are taking on more of the parenting roles, women still make the majority of purchase decisions particularly around food, clothing, health, medication and childcare and it pays to have those people reflected in the ads - showing them a solution to a problem they personally face will drive purchase intention. Mums are still in the main in charge of the decision to use cloth or disposable nappies, breastfeeding or formula, weaning, sleep training, health and wellbeing – and when it comes to marketing, you target the decision maker.

 But women don’t like dads being shown as the clueless idiot – it’s not the reality we see in our homes, and these ads jar even though they may be done with humour. This ad from Coke shows parenthood from a dad’s perspective – while still aimed at the female purchaser the humour of the shared experience of chaos and disturbance feels very real and makes the twist at the end extra meaningful. 


If parents are your target market, here's what to consider:

Show the reality. A genuine reflection of your customers’ lives shown with humour and compassion will resonate and stand out from a clutter of yummy mummy or 'if you really cared' messages. 

Dads are parents too. The number of stay at home dads has almost doubled in the past 10 years, and men are taking on a significant portion of the caring and home duties. How can your business reflect this change (avoiding the 'do it mum's way or else' message)?

Time is precious. Consider how parents can access your service or products - are there ways you can streamline processes, or adjust your customer service to better meet their needs? Things like short application forms, use of mobile or online, and later evening phone hours can be a godsend to busy parents.

Everybody talks. Word of mouth is particularly strong for parents - they trade hints, share experiences and can be your biggest advocates (or critics). Are you asking for referrals or reviews? Would social media suit your business? How can you leverage your existing customer base to access new customers?

Parents are parents all year around. While it's tempting to target your advertising to seasonal events like Mother's Day, it's a competitive time to be in market, and the connections are often dull and generic. This year Aldi was promoting Mother's Day gifts of fluffy slippers and ooh, pink tools! I think I'll keep my Bosch hammer drill if it's all the same, thanks!


Images via Flickr CC/Cassie Nguyen + Thomas



Nerissa AtkinsonComment