Online communities are where marketers need to engage families

Modern families no longer trust advertising. Marketers must use the internet to win them back with targeted, appealing Web content, says Simon Williamson

Life – and media – has changed immeasurably since the Oxo Family graced television ad breaks in the 1980s. Oxo presented a window on traditional family life, where Dad worked and Mum was caring for the children at home and, of course, cooking, using the famous stock cubes as a key ingredient.

Things have moved on from those days of the Oxo Family’s 2.4 children. Today, 1.8 is the average number of children per household in the UK, 155,000 dads stay at home to look after their kids, 25% of dependents are cared for by a lone parent and in one in three dual-earner families, Dad is the main carer when Mum is at work. What’s more, we’re starting families later, while mothers return to work sooner after giving birth. There are more first-time mums in the 30 to 34 age group than in the 25 to 29 range and 56% of women with a child under five work, with over a third working full time. By the time children hit their teens, 80% of their mums are employed.

As a result, compared with Mr and Mrs Oxo, co-habiting partners in the noughties have less time but more money – as do their children. This makes them highly appealing to brands but far more difficult to reach. Not only do they not have as much time to digest the marketing messages thrown at them, they are bombarded with more than ever before. They are also very marketing aware, distrustful of traditional advertising and have a growing range of media to choose from. No longer can a 30-second slot during Coronation Street corner a nation.

Yet, while families appear very different today than they were during Margaret Thatcher’s era, traditional values remain important to modern mums. Women care about the same things their mothers did, namely their children’s welfare.

In a study of more than 4,000 mums conducted by Bounty last year, the number one concern for women was revealed as the health and happiness of their children, closely followed by a wish to see them brought up properly with good development and social skills. Only 41% of those who worked said their job was important to them, and 80% put home life at the top of their priority list.

So it appears that modern mums actually aspire to being the Oxo Family even if their lifestyles are quite different. It has never been more important to reach mums, as women have more spending power than ever and, according to research by the Proficiency Group, influence 80% of all purchases – from the more obvious food and clothes to DIY products and cars. It’s also worth noting that families with children under five years have a combined spend of about £40bn.

With so much media choice available to families and so many products on the market, brands need to use all channels to reach them; because it’s not only harder than ever to engage customers, it’s difficult to make your product stand out.

Brands must overcome consumers’ growing scepticism of advertising. Building trust should be a key marketing aim. To achieve this, brands need to find new ways to engage and add value. This is why online is increasing in popularity, because it allows brands to build communities via key content online, giving customers a reason to revisit websites other than when they simply want information on products.

At Bounty we’ve done just that by providing key advice for young families, and other brands benefit through sampling and partner programmes. Our multi-channel approach spans: product sampling, which reaches 90% of new mums; publications, with 2.5 million circulated annually to young families; direct mail, offering 22 million insert opportunities across 3.7 million mailings; and online, where Bounty.com has become the largest online meeting point for mums in the UK, with 650,000 parents opted in and a monthly reach of one in three new mums.

A few years ago consumers’ impact on brand share was expressed in terms of individuals; you either bought something or you did not. But now the balance of power has shifted. Consumers are online and interacting with people on a huge scale, people with the same interests as them. Powerful communities are forming and brands need to get involved by generating their own and using those of related brands – or risk drowning in a sea of mass production and mass media.

As for original Oxo Mum, actress Linda Bellingham, well she’s moved on too, and can be found starring in Vincent River in the West End, a tale of repressed sexual identity, loss and, of course, the family. 

Simon Williamson is managing director of Bounty

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