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Consumer Behaviour Marketing Branding

Marketing to modern families is broken

By Jen Smith, head of planning

May 9, 2016 | 5 min read

The reality of family life has changed tremendously in recent decades yet many brands are guilty of attempting to shoehorn the modern family into the one-size fits all model of the nuclear family. It is a tendency that ignores the fact that in western societies married parents to dependent children are fast becoming the exception rather than the norm.

The structure of families is increasingly diverse; children are being raised by aunts, grandparents, same-sex couples and single parents. According to research from Mintel, a quarter of UK families with dependent children are now headed by a lone parent. Yet brands remain wedded to a family ideal which fails to celebrate these new fluid family formations.

A broken mirror

As our conceptions, expectations and experience of family life are in a state of flux, marketers have struggled to adequately represent the diverse makeups of modern families in their marketing. The temptation for brands is to use advertising to hold a mirror up to consumers; hoping that in the space of a 30-second spot they can see themselves. The logic being that when they recognise themselves in adverts they will mimic the behaviour and see clearly the product or service on show is for them.

With the increasingly complex makeup of family life emerging, it would be tempting to conclude that better targeting is the answer to the industry's conundrum. Indeed the targeting afforded by programmatic advertising enables brands to deliver a highly personalised message to a specific target audience. In essence brands can create a multitude of communications, each talking to the many faces of family life in the UK. Yet this approach can not only be prohibitively costly, but can result in a campaign which simply ticks boxes rather than creating a coherent message and meaningful connection.

Great creative transcends representation and brands tying themselves in knots to reflect the modern family risk missing out on the bigger strategic opportunity. Connecting with the diverse, blended and extended families of today is not about attempting to be all things to all people through simply holding up a mirror to the myriad faces of family life. Yes the industry needs to do more to better reflect the reality of modern families but that is just the start of the journey to revolutionising how we understand, embrace and champion families.

Diverse ambitions

To connect with the modern family brands must have a point of view. Embracing and driving the reality of our diverse, muddled and vibrant family ecosystem is key to this. There is no uniform way to market to families anymore and brands can no longer afford to ignore the unconscious bias that exists in our industry. The cookie-cutter formula of domestic bliss belongs firmly in the 1950s.

For the truth remains that the modern family looks different to previous generations and great insight can bring this eclectic group together. By appealing to the universal experience of parenthood – the hopes and fears and emotions of parents, whether married or single, straight or LGBT – brands can bring this diverse group together. At the heart of this approach lies empathy and understanding of the pressures, hopes and dreams of modern families.

The cliché that it ‘takes a village to raise a child’ remains relevant today as modern families also turn to a global online village for reassurance, support and sharing. But as research from baby products brand Tommee Tippee reveals that over half (56 per cent) of new parents feel overwhelmed by the advice they receive online, there remains a pivotal role for brands to play in reassuring and supporting these universal hopes and fears.

Millennial parents may well be facing new social media-driven anxieties and substantial pressures on both their time and money but they are the most diverse, individual and inclusive group of parents in marketing history. The opportunity for brands lies not just in better reflecting the reality of their eclectic lives but inspiring, informing, encouraging and supporting them as both parents and individuals. This isn't easy an easy task, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Just ask any parent.

Jen Smith is head of strategy and planning at Maxus UK

Consumer Behaviour Marketing Branding

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