Jeff Greenhouse

Experienced Marketing & Analytics Executive

Targeting Moms with Advertising: 3 Key Insights
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Targeting Moms with Advertising: 3 Key Insights

Moms control a massive amount of household spending. That makes them a hugely important group to target with advertising for a wide range of products and services. How do you reach this incredibly valuable audience in the right way? What common mistakes should you avoid if you want them to support your brand? Here are three big key insights, courtesy of Advertising Week in New York.

“Moms and the New Zeitgeist” was one of the first events of Advertising Week 8 in New York. This panel discussion featured a group of heavyweights (4 of them moms, and 1 of them a dad):

  • Suzanne Vranica, Advertising & Marketing Columnist, WSJ
  • Katherine Wintsch, Founder, The Mom Complex VP/Group Planning Director, The Martin Agency
  • Tony Rogers, SVP Marketing, Walmart
  • Michal Clements, Co-Author, Tuning into Mom: Understanding America's Most Powerful Consumer
  • Alicia Ybarbo, Producer, The Today Show, Co-Author, Today's Moms: Essentials for Surviving Baby's First Year

In the span of an hour, they shared some fantastic insights into the misunderstood market of moms. They didn’t spend a single minute on WHERE to reach moms, because the targeted delivery of the ads is a well-known and supported science. Instead, they focused on the creative aspects including the overall content and tone of the ads that target moms. Three major themes emerged over the course of the session:

1. Every mom is two moms
The biggest takeaway from the session is that every mother has two completely different sides:

The “Perfect” mom – This is the effortless multitasker who manages to flawlessly balance her marriage, kids, house and (often) career. She takes everything in stride, always has the time she needs to get everything done, never looks tired or frazzled, and always ends the day with a smile on her face. You’ve seen this mom in many, many ads and TV commercials, but she doesn't really exist. More importantly, the panel shared the insight that THIS is the image that many moms feel pressured to present to other moms, especially people they don’t know well. Katherine Wintsch added that this pressure is often a negative impact on the usefulness of mom-filled focus groups.

The “Real” mom - The reality of motherhood and family management is not nearly as neat and tidy (or as easy) as the “perfect mom” image would portray. There are NOT enough hours in the day. Real kitchens are rarely perfectly clean and organized. Real living rooms are often crammed with toys, school supplies and other items that don’t have a formal place. Real moms are often tired and constantly shuffling schedules to try to fit everything in. It’s not an easy job! (all the more reason that we should appreciate what they do for us).

What the panelists agreed on is that moms don’t really want to see EITHER of these images in advertising. The “perfect mom” is frustrating to watch, rather than aspirational. Her life is unattainable. The “real mom” is too close to home (again, a reminder of the frustrations, rather than a positive view). The “real mom” image also makes it hard to deliver a clean, clearly focused ad. As an advertiser, your best bet is to find a nice spot in the middle-ground. You want a positive image that shows your product delivering a realistic improvement in their life.

2. A mom is a mom is a first time mom.
Sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme, right? The panel talked about how advertisers often focus too much on moms with toddlers. The fact is that a mom is a mom every day after that child is born. There are moms of babies, moms of toddlers, moms of third graders, moms of tweens, moms of teens, moms of college kids and moms of adults. There’s some truth to the idea of targeting newer moms in the hopes of developing brand loyalty, but if you only focus on moms of toddlers, the rest of the moms are going to drift.

The other thing that advertisers often forget when targeting moms is that a mom is a first-time mom every day of her life. Every day her child grows, changes and enters a new stage of life. Her family dynamic changes and she has to face new situations that she has never faced before. If she has two kids, she may be in familiar territory with the second, but the first is still breaking new ground at the same time.

There’s a lot of self-doubt that goes along with this kind of trailblazing. Moms need support (and often seek it from other moms), and reassurance. That’s why the “perfect mom” image is so problematic. No mom ever feels that way in real life.

3. Moms are people too.
When the panel got around to discussing brands and commercials that “got it right”, the overwhelming message that came across was: “We love great ads just like everybody else.” Rather than ads that have a big flashing “MOM” sign on them, they remember ads that make them smile and laugh. Some of the ads the panel mentioned in particular were the recent Kraft Mac n’ Cheese commercials, ads for Swiffer, and the VW “Mini-Vader” commercial.

Just look at the “real mom” description above. If there’s anybody in the house who needs a laugh, it’s mom. Alicia Ybarbo said “Look at all that I’m dealing with. If you can make me laugh, you’ve got me!” Remember, moms like to spread the laughs too. This is a very viral audience, so if you give them an ad with entertainment value, they will share it.

On the flipside, there was a feeling that a lot of the previous advertising targeted to moms has not shown them enough respect. Unsophisticated ads that push too hard, or those that emphasize the mom stereotypes come across as condescending. Ironically, the panel did acknowledge that beer commercials, beloved by both men and women, tend to emphasize male stereotypes, but in a self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek way (but that’s a topic for another post).

Ultimately, the panel painted the picture of a very, very valuable audience with very, very complicated lives. The key to reaching them with your advertising is to respect their challenges, their time and their needs, and to challenge your assumptions. “Mom” just may be the most complex three letter word in the world!

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