Brands that represent motherhood as a series of chores are alienating mums that want to see more emotional rather than functional representations in advertising.
Mums see motherhood as a relationship rather than a job, according to new research commissioned by Mumsnet and conducted by Saatchi & Saatchi, which shows that over half (55%) of respondents don’t believe brands understand their desires as a parent.
The research reveals that marketers often portray motherhood as an activity or set of jobs that must be done rather than as a meaningful relationship, with 58% of mums agreeing with this analysis and only 9% disagreeing.
Many mums in the survey want to be described as ‘loving’ and ‘fun’ by their kids, words cited by 54% and 40% respectively, and 65% of mums wish they could spend more time playing together, having fun and being a friend to their child. These would inevitably be better archetypes for marketers to use in their portrayals of mums than someone juggling responsibilities.
“Women don’t transform into hygiene-obsessed drudges the moment they give birth,” says Justine Roberts, chief executive officer at Mumsnet. “Brands are rightly happy to portray dads being spontaneous, individual and expressing their joy in their families but they seem to struggle to do the same for mums, which feels like a missed opportunity.”
Roberts believes that “while lots of mums spend much more time on domestic tasks than dads do, they’re not enthused by campaigns telling them that they’re defined by their choice of floor soap or bioactive dairy product”.
The research therefore looks at how brands can positively appeal to women through identifying how mothers, defined as women with children under 16, feel about the roles they play in family and society. It combines a survey of 1,022 mums in the UK and a week-long ethnographic study on mums’ home and personal environments, as well as insights garnered from listening to the Mumsnet community of 8 million monthly users.
Kerry Foods’ marketing director April Redmond believes that the findings about mums’ preferences should be self-evident but that they’re not being incorporated into advertising in a meaningful way.
“There is obviously something holding the industry back from really talking to mums and women in a well-rounded way,” she says. “It always seems to go back to those functional depictions of mum juggling 500 different things and looking like she is crazed and harassed.”
Last year Mumsnet and Saatchi & Saatchi joined forces in a study that revealed that only one in five mothers could relate to representations of mums in advertising. This research goes beyond that sentiment by identifying eight key emotional roles that will enable marketers to connect with mothers. These are ‘carer’; ‘safe house’, which relates to being a protector; ‘fan’, which is about supporting children’s activities; ‘partner in crime’, relating to playing with kids; ‘coach’; ‘rule breaker’; ‘hero’; and ‘friend’.
Only 10 of the top 50 brands by marketing spend target mothers according to these emotionally defined roles with most showing mums as carers, the study finds. This leaves significant territory that brands are not covering.
Roberts says: “After decades of seeing one-dimensional mothers in advertising, it would be refreshing to see on-screen mums in a different light – breaking the rules, having fun with their kids, even just looking happy rather than harassed.”
Opportunities to connect
In order to identify opportunities for brands these eight roles can be further filtered down to look at the level of importance versus the confidence in performing each role and how much time is spent on each compared to the time mums would like to spend.
Of the eight roles, carer, safe house and hero rank the highest in importance with mums, with 98% of respondents rating each one of them as important. The top three are followed by coach (96%), fan (94%), friend (93%) and partner in crime (91%). The lowest score is for rule breaker, as 65% of mums say this is important to them.
Mums are most confident in the role of carer – 97% say this compared to 73% of mums who are confident in performing the rule breaker role, which receives the lowest score. Carer is followed by safe house (96%), friend (93%), coach (91%), fan and hero (90%) and partner in crime (86%), in terms of confidence levels.
Richard Huntington, chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi London, says: “It’s not the job that marketers often imagine it is. There is some hard graft that you have to do but that isn’t the reason you had a baby in the first place.
“The conversation I want to have is that there is this huge territory to go and play in. If I were brands I would start having that conversation about playing a part in helping mums with those emotional roles,” he adds.
What mothers want
In order to look at the areas where there is potential to target mums with differentiated messaging, the study also researched what mums are currently spending their time doing compared to what they want to do. Brands could be enabling or encouraging mums to do more of what they want to be doing rather than focusing on functional roles and what they need to do as a mother, it suggests.
The research shows that a third (34%) of mums spend the most time on being a carer but 58% of mums want to spend more time on the role. This is a low figure compared to the 74% who would like to spend more time being a ‘partner in crime’, while just 8% of mums say they spend time on fulfilling this role.
Being a hero shows a similar story: 15% of mums spend time doing it but 70% of mums want to pay it more attention. ‘Fan’ is the third role that mums want to spend more time on – two thirds (66%) say this compared to the 4% of mums that concentrate on this role at present.
Interestingly, being seen as a partner in crime and a rule breaker are both supposedly of low importance and mums feel low levels of confidence in these roles, but they also show the biggest gaps between the time mums spend playing the roles and the time they wanting to spend.
Brands can’t be all things to all mums, however, and Huntington at Saatchi & Saatchi advises marketers to think about what is credible for the brand but simultaneously stresses that these roles should be “practical and helpful to explore a bigger bandwidth of emotions around the relationship between brands and mothers”.
He says that at the moment it is “inconceivable” that a brand would make an ad similar to Robinsons’ ‘pals’ creative – which shows a dad and son having fun together – replacing the dad with a mum.
Lego similarly focused on a dad and child in its Christmas ad from 2013 called ‘Let’s Build’. The creative was born from insight into Lego customers that said they want to see the father and son relationship in relation to the brand.
Rebecca Snell, head of marketing at Lego UK says: “If I think about how we approach our marketing right now, we clearly have a lot of advertising that is speaking to the child but equally and more so in the last few years we have been creating campaigns targeted at parents and both of those are built off insight.”
Lego will present a session on connecting mother and child through the power of play at this week’s Mumstock event, Mumsnet’s annual conference on marketing to mums, which Marketing Week is partnering with this year.
Brands also have to look at the stage the mum is in. This is the case for baby brand Mamas & Papas. “For first-time mums they need the support and guidance – they are emotional about the journey that lies ahead,” says brand and creative director Olivia Robinson.
Sausage brand Richmond is taking the same approach to ad creative and using the insight that parents feel guilty about not spending time as a family to ensure the brand resonates with mums and dads. It’s working with Saatchi & Saatchi on a new launch campaign that dramatises the lengths parents will go to to fuel family bonds.
Redmond at Kerry Foods, which owns the Richmond brand, says: “Whether or not we can execute against the insight is [an outstanding question] but we are really working hard to get under the skin of the emotional insight of what really drives mum and dads too.”
Redmond finds it “sad” that there are only a few examples of brands going beyond focusing on motherhood as a chore but is hopeful for the future. “I’m really passionate with the brands that we have at Kerry Foods about making sure that we continually challenge the quality of the work we are doing around propositions and campaigns that are aimed at mum,” she says.
“I think by having the right conversations and continually challenging each other, change does happen but we are going to have to relentlessly drive it and drive it with conviction.”
The research is not an exhaustive list of every role that a mum wants to accomplish, or that every brand has to link to in its marketing and communications, because it has to be a credible attempt.
The research clearly shows that there is work to be done to create more representations of motherhood that touch on the role of mum as a hero, fan or any other emotional role identified by the study, but as Huntington suggests, it is a process of listening to mums and trying to make a contribution.
“It’s not about the brands playing those roles it’s the brands thinking about how it might help mums play them,” he says.
“Motherhood isn’t a job,” says Snell at Lego. “There are many facets to motherhood and brands need to recognise that and talk to her in different ways, not just as a carer. There is still a role for that – being a caring mother is still important – but equally, so is being a friend and role model. It feels like brands haven’t tapped into those other emotional roles.”
Q. Do you think marketing today addresses mums beyond functional roles?
Often today we see that marketing either focuses on the functional roles or on the big organised moments of family togetherness, such as holidays, theme parks or playing sports.
What seems to be missing is the fun that exists in the every day and we believe that this is something that tech can play a real role in. We are not claiming that tech will be the only means of addressing everyday moments but we believe it has a greater role to play within the family environment.
Q. How should marketers be adapting their communications to mums?
Many marketers believe that they understand families because they are part of a family. We need to be really clear that the majority of marketers fall into the top group of UK earners and need to avoid making assumptions based on their own experience. Research and insight is vital.
Marketers should in fact be looking to take the pressure off mums rather than adding additional pressure through picture postcard families having great fun on expensive holidays. We should look to be more light-hearted and acknowledge there’s more value in the everyday stuff.
Q. How does O2 ensure it understands the needs of mums who are its customers?
We recently undertook a significant piece of research, which delivered some very similar findings [to Mumsnet’s study]. What is really clear from our research is that there is an almost universal need for ‘togetherness’ which links into the research stating mothers want to be described as “fun, loving and happy”.
This doesn’t just mean moments of organised fun but the spontaneous moments of genuine togetherness, even if that is a family sitting in the living room together, Skyping with their grandma or looking at photos on a tablet.
Mums are laying down the challenge to marketers to provide engaging ads that go above and beyond the rational sales imperative and appeal to them through emotions, recognising that mums are more than just the sum total of their chores.
Most of the creative teams that are creating advertising for women are men and I’m wondering if the reason why nothing has changed has to do with the fact that the marketers who are developing campaigns aimed at women don’t understand what they’re about.
It feels like there is a big movement of brands trying to tap into the emotional connection with mums and dads. Adverts are tapping into the vulnerability of the mother and the emotional feeling at the time of wanting to do their best.