Marketing to Moms: Is That Your Reflection on the T.V.?

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Recently I was talking with my mother, who is in her 60s, about my older son, who is very… vocal. He talks constantly. In admiring her grandson’s verboseness and laughing at me and my auditory exhaustion, she was suddenly reminded about mothering my sister at about the same age. She was also very chatty. Apparently my sister’s constant talking about the issues and observances of being five drove my mom completely bananas at times, and most especially when in the car.

If you have a chatty wee one, you get it. And I had heard this story about my sis before, of course. But this time, my mom included something new that piqued my interest. She remembered a TV spot that aired during this same point in her motherhood. That’s right, she suddenly recalled a TV ad from more than 30 years ago. “It was a McDonald’s ad and it showed a little girl who talked constantly until the mini-van pulled into the McDonald’s drive-thru and all you could see was the food going into the mini-van and then you just heard the little girl suddenly being quiet!” my mom recalled with almost a glint in her eye and a grin on her face. “You didn’t even see her eating the food, you just knew!” And with that, my mom had suddenly quieted me as well. I was shocked that she remembered a TV ad from half her lifetime ago… and at the same time not surprised at all because the reason she remembered it was timeless: she saw herself in that ad. She saw herself in that mini-van’s driver’s seat and her daughter as the little girl inside. And she has remembered the way McDonald’s broke through to her for decades since. “Show her you know her.”

It’s a phrase we use a lot in mom marketing. We ask our clients and partners to show moms that they get moms’ needs, their lifestyles, their layers. The research we’ve done indicates marketers think moms are more self-interested than we really are, and that we have more traditional gender roles or “mom stereotypes” than we really do. I like to call that the paper towel syndrome. Have you ever noticed how often paper towel ads show a mom wearing khakis and a button down, who seems to appear out of nowhere with a smile right at the moment that her kids and husband have spilled something in the kitchen? Hmm… When is the last time you saw yourself – your motherhood – reflected back you in an advertisement? When have you seen an ad that made you think, “Now there’s a brand that gets modern moms”?

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