The death of the nuclear family signals the birth of new brand communications


The traditional definition of a nuclear family has become redundant in this day and age, but marketers can respond to this by opening their minds to what constitutes a modern family.

The media has mourned the death of the nuclear family since at least the late 1990s, highlighting the decline of the institutional ideal of mum, dad and 2.3 children.

But today it is evident that rather than being a phenomenon to be warned against, the change in how family bonds are now manifested is something to be embraced in brand imagery. Because, despite a greater proportion of modern families being single parent, step-families, extended, adopted and gay than previously thought, I think the view that strong family ties are the stronghold of a productive society has not changed.

A desire from marketers to understand the psychology of today’s family units has spurred a surge in research around this area, from agency Isobel’s FamilyBrand Index, Saatchi & Saatchi’s Secret Life of British Families report, and Marketing Week’s own exclusively commissioned research by consultancy Discovery, all of which feature in last week’s Marketing Week cover story.

Highlighting real family relationships, in the context of how they take place in real life, makes brands real, and that’s what real people want to see, as the research highlights, rather than glossy stereotypes of four beautiful people sitting around a polished table in a massive luxury kitchen.

Werther’s Original’s grandfather and son, Comptoir De Cottonieres’s mother and daughter, Louis Vuitton’s husband and wife, and Lloyd’s TSB’s gay male couple are highlighted in the feature as examples of brands honing in on real life family units and what makes these relationships special.

And as the research from Discovery also shows, there is a certain sector of families defining themselves less through the personal ownership of brands and products and more through a communal identity and the activities they participate in as a family.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for brands to engage families in this way; as Nintendo’s Wii shows, there is definitely a place for brands to facilitate a communal experience. As our research indicates, brands have gained a new importance in the realm of the home and enhancing the home as the place of choice to spend time, in line with trends spurred by “Come Dine with Me” and “Staycations”.

Brands can embrace the less than ideal situation of the Government calling for them to step in and help pick up the slack in its slashed marketing budget and public programmes, and show the country that they understand and want to be part of today’s families.

I think the death of the original nuclear family is something to be celebrated rather than mourned. It signals the birth of new images in brand messaging and the death of the “Don Draper dad and Superwoman mum”, as Saatchi & Saatchi puts it in its report, in favour of recognising the triumphs and struggles experienced by real families.