Behind closed doors

Is your brand ready for some home truths? For brands to find a place in today’s homes, marketers must look past family stereotypes, according to an exclusive survey which goes behind people’s front doors to reveal the true nature of households’ relationships with brands.

Click here to read about marketing and nostalgia
Click here to find out how tech brands are making themselves family friendly
To see how brands use real families, click here


Strengthening the family as an institution is a priority for prime minister David Cameron, who pledged in December last year to allocate £7.5m annually to organisations that help keep Britain’s families together.

He is encouraging businesses, along with the media and voluntary sector, to help him in his crusade to make the country more “family friendly”. He cited research which found that only 6% of families thought this was an accurate description of Britain.

But if businesses and brands are going to attach themselves more firmly to family structures, how much about today’s families do they really know? It may no longer be enough for a brand to reflect what it merely thinks makes households tick, so the desire to find out what really goes on behind the front door has fuelled a demand for greater insight among marketers.

Brands such as Pizza Express, Pantene and Nintendo Wii (see case studies, below) are already using insight to appeal to families in their marketing. And to help marketers get closer to households, exclusive research commissioned by Marketing Week has identified three main types of family in terms of varying attitudes towards brands. These are image-focused achievers, more practical balancers and the challenged, according to the study by consultancy Discovery (see Method at the end of this feature).

Image-focused achievers

This type of family rates brand names highly, and uses them to help define social status and personal success. An example of one such family is a household made up of a dad working in the City and a mum training to be a teaching assistant, with two children under the age of eight.

The father admits he likes to show off what he owns: “Brand is important, particularly with the things that are out on show and around the house.

“I take time choosing what I am going to buy. I do dismiss some brands from the start because they aren’t as good. I recently bought a Pioneer plasma TV, which was at the top end of my budget, but seemed to be the best. I’m proud of it and when people see it, they do comment,” he says.

Brands such as Pizza Express, Pantene and Nintendo Wii are already using insight to appeal to families in their marketing

He has passed this desire for brands to his 15-year-old daughter, who comments: “Dad loves brands and I love brands, and we wouldn’t buy something non-branded.” Brands passed down by parents include Kellogg, Neff and Bisto, according to the study. Those passed upwards by children are Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Canon, among others (see Wealth Generation, below).

Cookery brand Kenwood has identified its own type of achievers, which it calls ’showtimers’. Kenwood marketing manager for new product development in the breakfast category, Jane Perry, says: “A beautiful-looking kitchen machine can be a statement accessory for people who use their products in a social entertaining environment, and we have a product line for those consumers.”

Kenwood tries to fit its products to meet the varying demands of the different family types. “Two machines will be [essentially] the same but one will be about looking fantastic and another more about function. It depends on what the consumer wants.”

Wealth generation: How parents use nostalgia to pass brands to children


Favourite brands are passed down through generations, for all types of family, the research reveals. Kenwood, with its strong nostalgic values of parents baking with their children, is one that benefits from this trend.

Marketing manager Jane Perry says such nostalgia is a strong part of the brand identity, and understanding how this relates to emotional attachment is something it is looking to understand further.

“For a lot of young women, the Kenwood mixer was something they saw in their grandma’s kitchen, and the brand is still very much a feature on wedding lists. It’s about turning a child that makes after-school smoothies with Kenwood appliances into a customer in later life,” she says.

Discovery’s study notes that brand preferences passed down by parents can go through a cycle of acceptance by children. Their initial high standing in kids’ minds is sometimes followed by a rebellion to push away what is seen as ’uncool’. But then brands often come full circle, as the now grown-up children remember the impact the brands had on their childhood. “I still ask my mum’s advice on food and cleaning products. If my mum trusts them I know I can,” says a mother in an ’achievers’ family.

Brands can also be passed upwards by generations. Children in one family took their parents shopping at fashion brands Topshop and Superdry, and helped their father pick an iPhone. Grandparents even absorbed technology brands from grandchildren. One grandmother notes: “I haven’t got any of these brands but I like to be able to talk about these things to them.”

While teenagers are quick to pick up on brand trends and to pressure parents into buying branded items for them, Discovery saw that trends for this age group wear off fast. This may prompt brands to introduce colour variants or limited editions.

Rachel Hunter and her daughter Renee Stewart

Some brands trade on nostalgia with a modern-day touch. In Australia and New Zealand, Pantene shampoo is famously linked to model and former wife of Rod Stewart, Rachel Hunter. She became synonymous with the brand’s 1990s catchphrase, ’It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen’. Last year, Hunter reprised her role as brand ambassador, this time with daughter Renee Stewart in tow.

Hunter’s reappearance and Stewart’s debut was to mark a brand refresh, encompassing a new shampoo formula and packaging. The duo embarked on a tour, giving interviews to media outlets on the way to generate PR for the campaign.

The brand will also push the family connection this year and will roll out its ’Proud sponsors of mum’ campaign for the 2012 Olympic Games. It paid for 25 athletes’ mothers to watch their children compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Practical balancers

Families that put more store in function and make product choices based on merit and value, along with facts and research, are known as practical balancers in the research. As Discovery research director Kate McEnery-Evans explains, these tend to want to avoid being taken in by the ’shallowness’ of brands. “Balancers don’t want to be as fickle as to always buy into the latest must-have – they want to buy something that stands the test of time,” she says.

The daughter from this home says: ’I remember Mum always had Babyliss when I was growing up, so when I was looking for hair tongs I chose Babyliss because I know it is reliable.’

Constantly reappraising what brands offer, they don’t necessarily reject them, McEnery-Evans adds, but a purchase needs to be substantiated by quality and functionality. A father in one of the researched families, with two working parents and a grown-up daughter living at home, fits into this archetype and says: “I don’t buy something because it’s a brand, and I don’t not buy something because it’s a brand; I shop around.”

Different generations in the household also pass on their influences in the balanced family. The daughter from this home says: “I remember Mum always had Babyliss [products] when I was growing up, so when I was looking for hair tongs I chose Babyliss because I know it is reliable. And I got Mum and Dad into eating Quorn because it’s easy to cook and is a healthy alternative to meat.”

The influence of the generations on each other is something that several brands have tapped into. Haircare brand Pantene uses New Zealand-born model Rachel Hunter and her daughter Renee Stewart to promote its products in Australasia. Pantene brand communications manager for the region Lisa Cunningham says: “Rachel was able to reconnect with past users while Renee represented the new generation,” she says.

Discovery’s McEnery-Evans claims that more families than not fall into this category due to continuing economic challenges. She adds that traditional achievers have started behaving more like balancers, perhaps out of a sense of guilt or social responsibility.

Challenged families

Challenged families, as the label indicates, aspire to brands that can often be out of reach because of a difficult financial situation. One household in the Discovery research is made up of a father whose removals business is suffering, leading to the mother becoming the breadwinner and putting her husband primarily in charge of their three children under 13.

Families use brands to create a collective identity to project to the outside world, according to the study.

The family places greater emphasis on activities and fun than brands and possessions. “I’m happier finding the money for them to do something than to buy them something that they want because their friends have it,” says the mother, while the father admits: “Our TV’s old but there’s nothing wrong with it so we can’t justify going out and spending a few hundred pounds on a new one right now.”


But even though they are stretched, the need to own branded goods remains. “I bought my daughter some Ugg boots from eBay second-hand. It restored her image with her friends,” another mother says.

Families use brands to create a collective identity to project to the outside world, according to the study. For example, in some of the families, branded TVs, computers and other household items are positioned in areas where visitors are more likely to notice, while non-branded alternatives are confined to more private areas, such as upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms.

There’s no kidding consumers

While some brands have distinct positionings that they wouldn’t wish to dilute to accommodate different consumer needs, the study suggests that brands can adapt their products to fit the different segments. Kenwood says it strives to identify these different types of consumer. Kenwood’s Perry says: “There are a number of things driving our brand direction, and one is recognising that different families are looking for different things, from function and versatility, to people who are looking for out-and-out performance and perfection.”

Pizza Express’ new-generation store in Richmond, London

Another brand with a variety of target customers is Pizza Express. Families have always been core to the brand but marketing director Emma Woods says that it is an audience she never takes for granted or assumes a full understanding of.

“We want our restaurants to be great places for adults to dine out with their kids, without it ever feeling ’kiddie’. I’m a mum of four and know what it’s like to eat out at soul-destroying kiddie-tastic restaurants,” says Woods.
Pizza Express has sought the guidance of online community Mumsnet, inviting feedback from its 1 million members. Not only did their suggestions form a Mumsnet Pizza Express Service Charter, but also provided the basis for a strategy to “intelligently engage” children in the restaurant environment.

“We successfully trialled several of the Mumsnet ideas in our new-generation restaurant in Richmond. They included a large communal drawing table with fluorescent pencils and a paper roll, and a series of memorable events for kids such as the popular play-dough hour. Illustrator Bruce Ingham has also held sessions teaching children to draw,” Woods explains.

The top five family brands

The restaurant’s agency Isobel was prompted to do its own study of families, which YouGov conducted last year. The resulting Family Brands Index revealed the top five brands as Boots, The Co-operative, Fairy, Warburtons and BBC1. Perhaps surprisingly, supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco did not make the top 10, despite all their marketing efforts to produce a family-friendly face.

Boots: one of the top 5 family brands

Steve Hastings, planning partner at Isobel, says that brands have a role to play in encouraging family life, without being “didactic and governmental”.

But brands should be wary of using stereotypes as a shortcut to portraying a family, warns a families study by Saatchi & Saatchi. Head of planning Jane Cantellow says brands need to recognise that not all families are white and middle class (see Celebrating Real Family Relationships, below). The study encourages brands to honour the efforts of working-class men, nurture a sense of family in the wider community and celebrate unconditional love, among other things.

One surprising observation, Cantellow says, is a kind of role reversal in children being concerned about their parents.

“That’s quite an interesting flip because it really isn’t what most adults in marketing talk about,” she says. “The depth of feeling that some kids were talking about, in wanting to be listened to when talking about their overworked, pressured parents, did bring a tear to the eye.”

While not all brands are, can be, or want to be family brands, there are definitely gains to be made for those that can meaningfully play a part in modern family life.

Celebrating real family relationships

Highlighting real family relationships over the stereotypical portrait of mother, father and two children allows brands to be broader in their approach to marketing.

One common strategy has been to home in on specific units of a family and honour their bonds. For example, Louis Vuitton has made its brand more approachable by using husband and wife Bono and Ali Hewson to illustrate the work it is doing to encourage trade in Africa.

Lloyds TSB has used cartoon images of a gay couple saving for their dream home to make its messaging more inclusive, while confectionery brand Werther’s Original is investing £5m in a campaign that will run all year focusing on the unconditional love between a father and son.


Fashion brand Comptoir des Cotonniers has chosen to highlight mother and daughter relationships. Launched in 1997, Comptoir des Cotonniers is famous for its use of real-life mothers and daughters in its brand imagery and advertising campaigns. The brand claims to have generated a loyal following, incremental buzz and continuing PR from the regular mother-daughter casting days it holds all over the world, which it promotes as highly coveted competition prizes.

Comptoir Des Cotonniers deputy chief operating officer Thierry Vasseur explains that the idea came from the simple observation that mothers and daughters shopping together in the brand’s stores enjoyed the chance to bond and share their opinions. The brand’s collections have always been “dedicated to real women”, he says, so it was a natural move to choose real mothers and daughters to represent the brand.

“The fact that we choose anonymous mothers and daughters to embody our collections creates a special relationship with women in general, contrary to other brands who choose to communicate with top models,” Vasseur claims. “Each season we choose new couples to embody our collections, as each season reflects a different mood and different trends, but the values of the brand are always the same.”

He adds that communicating the brand via real people brings it closer to its customers, and the thread of the mother-daughter bond is present through all brand touchpoints, from how stores are organised, to how sales teams are trained.

Putting the ’we’ into Wii: Tech names make themselves more family friendly

Nintendo took a new tack when it launched its Wii console in 2006, moving its image from the stereotypical male gamer to embed itself as a part of modern family life. It made a conscious decision to broaden its audience by focusing on home life as a whole.

Arguably, the growth of the Wii sub-brand has achieved this, from its campaign to find ’Britain’s brainiest family’ in 2007 to reviving the board game via its electronic platform.


The launch of Wii Fit in 2007 further promoted the brand as one that encourages users to be social and active, rather than stuck on the sofa playing video games, as Nintendo UK marketing manager Rob Lowe explains.

“About five years ago we were getting beaten quite soundly by PlayStation, which successfully went after a 16- to 34-year-old male audience. Since then we have left PlayStation and to an extent Xbox to go after that male audience because there is a much bigger opportunity to appeal to everybody else. A family is at the very heart of that, including parents, grandparents and children of all ages,” Lowe says. The goal, he says, has been to take the anti-social stigma away from gaming, which will continue to be a priority.

“We had looked at the way that kids had gone to their bedrooms to play video games, and the family unit was not quite what it had been,” he says. “I’m not saying that we have brought families together as a whole, but we might have done a bit. It was very much about having Wii in the living room and kids playing it with their parents.” One in three UK households now has a Wii, Lowe claims.

The portable Nintendo DS has also appealed to an audience of non-traditional gamers, helped by using more mature celebrity brand ambassadors such as Terry Wogan, Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart.

Nintendo is not alone. PC World in 2009 launched its ’Family World’ ads, featuring a dad looking for a laptop for his daughter to take to university, while Microsoft’s campaign for Windows 7 showed a mother using ’cloud’ technology to create an acceptable family photo from a series of botches.


Consultancy Discovery spent about half a day with each of 16 families, talking to them as individuals and as part of a unit so it could challenge what they said with what was observed, and then the three segments were developed. Discovery spoke to families separately to get an honest steer about the brands they owned so they could better understand their motivation and values when considering brands, explains research director Joanne Geere.



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