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Marketing to the modern family

Marriage isn’t a given, neither are children. Same-sex marriage and families are becoming more common. And as people live longer, more are starting afresh later in life and creating new families. The dynamics are definitely not the same as they used to be. In fact, what is a nuclear family these days? It could be many things …

More people than ever are living alone, treating their friends as family, or for that matter, even their pets. Then there is co-parenting while living separately, and all manner of ‘blended’ families.

While these sorts of families aren’t exactly new, what is new is that they are no longer treated as alternative, or out of place, in our modern societies. They are as acceptable, in many places, as are the families that could be described as what would have been seen as nuclear in the 1950s. In the United States, just 20 per cent of families fit the traditional definition of nuclear family – a mother, father and children.

But are brands recognising this shift in attitude towards family and what it means? While the picture of what family looks like may have changed dramatically over the last few decades, the notion of family is as important as ever. In the September 2014 JWT Intelligence report Meet the New Family, issues around representation of family in marketing are addressed, as well as thoughts about how to appeal to the modern family.

I had a good read of this fascinating report. Below, you’ll find a snapshot of what I thought were some of the most insightful facts, figures and thoughts about this extensive topic.

What are brands doing to address the modern family?

While many are yet to portray the reality of today’s family groups, some are. Betty Crocker, for example, embarked on an ambitious undertaking entitled the Family Project. In its exploration of modern families, the company produced a report on families in America and created a website that spotlights the effort, featuring same- sex couples, stay-at-home dads, single parents, a multigenerational household and more. “Families are changing a lot,” says the brand. “But they’ve still got one thing in common—the love that makes a home. At Betty Crocker, we believe that a family is a family, no matter how it’s arranged.”

Changing gender dynamics

More and more, the traditional notions of gender are disappearing, along with the primary breadwinner being the male in a family. Often it is the female who is the bread-winner; stay-at-home dads are becoming more common, and conventional ideas about male and female activities are evolving.

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The domestic daddy

Products are increasingly designed for households in which men are taking on more household chores and doing more shopping for, playing with and generally caring for kids.

Some of these are geared to men who aren’t well-versed in domestic tasks and the women who worry they’ll get it wrong. One reason Procter & Gamble launched its single-serve Tide Pods in 2012 was to alleviate women’s unease about men putting the wrong amount of detergent in the washing machine.

Other products put a gender-neutral or masculine spin on child care goods. Maclaren’s BMW Buggy stroller, for instance, “captures engineering excellence and innovative materials to deliver the ultimate strolling experience”; marketing features a chic dad and his daughter.

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Anti ‘doofus-dad’ messaging

Messaging is starting to better reflect changing gender dynamics. The “doofus dad,” the bumbling father who’s long been a media (and advertising) staple, is increasingly seen as a poor strategy—it’s simply bad business to alienate today’s co- parents. Indeed, some marketers are now creating explicitly anti-doofus dad ads.

A Canadian campaign for Peanut Butter Cheerios, dubbed “the official cereal of dadhood,” is an ode to the modern dad. Far from clueless and uncool, the father in a lighthearted two-minute spot confidently tells the viewer, “Being awesome isn’t about breaking rules, it’s about making them.” He deftly manages the family’s four kids, finally proclaiming, “This, my friends—this is ‘how to dad.’”

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Same-sex families

Major brands are starting to both target same-sex families and portray them as just another family in their mainstream marketing. For example, Coca-Cola’s uber-inclusive Super Bowl ad this year included shots of two dads roller skating with their daughter.

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What does this mean for brands?

At a time when married couples may not be planning on kids, parents could be same-sex or a dad might be the primary caregiver, brands must think carefully about the language and imagery they use and the way they target products and services.

Given today’s fluid gender roles within the family, for instance, supermarket brands can’t assume that their primary customer is a woman, that it’s Mom who’s shopping for the kids and that their male customer is clueless. Brands should not only update their assumptions about their consumers, they should seek to better reflect the new reality of nuclear families.

If you’d like to read the full report (and I’d recommend it), it is available to download here.