You’re a newly minted mom. What do you want to read at 2 a.m. when you’re sleep deprived, feeding your baby and have one free hand for your phone?
That question is the driving force of Romper, which is emerging as a formidable publisher two years into its quest to attract millennial moms. The site—a spinoff of big sister Bustle—said it has grown revenue 400 percent and traffic by 38 percent this year. It’s also attracted 27 new advertisers, mostly food and consumer packaged goods brands like Hershey’s, Plum Organics, Red Baron and Dove that are interested in sponsored videos.
Mom media is a crowded space, from pregnancy apps to Facebook groups to mommy blogs. But Romper’s trying to distinguish itself in a few ways, said Jason Wagenheim, CRO of Bustle. First, it’s speaking to moms across the country, not just in affluent, liberal enclaves in New York and Los Angeles, a strategy that he said is paying off with advertisers.
“The average age for a mom these days is 26 years old. We lose sight of the fact that there is an entire country out there that is 26 and having babies and not living on the coast, and Romper talks to that woman,” he said. “When you want to sell cars, you have to do it across the country, and that’s a big part of our story and our pitch.”
Here are six intriguing insights the publisher has learned so far about speaking to millennial moms.
Romper editors have noticed a surprising tendency among young mothers: they often bypass Google and head straight to online parenting groups for tips from their peers. “This generation of parents is really focused on community experience,” said Lindsey Green, vp of corporate communications for Bustle Digital Group.
As a result, some of its most successful content is about seemingly mundane, unemotional topics, like at what temperature breast milk should be thawed. In addition to its main Facebook page, Romper hosts topical pages like Breastfeeding TBH, Pregnancy TMI and Postpartum IRL where readers can share their experiences.
“It’s really interesting to put up a piece of service content, and it gets shared a bajillion times,” said Margaret Wheeler Johnson, managing editor of Romper. “Comments unfold, people share photos … we select the issue, and there they go.”
Alongside community, millennials gravitate toward authenticity. They’d rather get advice from parents who are in the trenches than from the celebrity pediatricians that Gen Xers and baby boomers turned to. “They are really looking to people on their level. It’s not like Dr. Sears is the only person who can tell you what to do with your body,” said Wheeler Johnson.
That’s given rise to personal essays from everyday women, and influencers who are candid about their struggles. The best Instagram caption explains the chaos that happened right before that perfect photo was snapped. “Honest and authentic are the two beats we try to hit in and out,” Wheeler Johnson added.
It might seem like a contradiction, but millennial moms want beauty alongside their authenticity. Life can’t just be about dirty diapers and sleepless nights and frazzled work days. That’s why these parents seek out aspirational Instagram and Pinterest posts.
“What we’ve observed is that they want and need both: real honesty around every aspect of the experience so that they don’t feel alone in its challenges, but also attention to the parts that are funny and uplifting and inspirational and really beautiful, because otherwise why are you doing this?” Wheeler Johnson said.
Most millennials want to see more honest depictions of parents. So Romper shot its own stock photography, bringing images of real parenting experiences and diverse families to its site. “It’s a really diverse generation,” Green said. “There are so many ways we’re living our lives, and that’s really reflective in the kind of content were doing.”
Romper also partnered with Baby Dove to film a documentary series called #RealMoms because, as the project says, “motherhood comes with challenges of all different shapes and sizes.” It features new moms struggling to overcome postpartum isolation, reconnect to their pre-baby identity, maintain a social life and find the right balance between work and kids.
Brands have come a long way toward depicting multidimensional moms. Until recently, “the creative was about a certain kind of woman with certain aspirations, and I don’t think that woman ever existed,” Wheeler Johnson said. “We’ve allowed these women [readers] to speak for themselves and give each other and brands an idea of who she is. She may not be married, she may be in a biracial relationship, she may be gay.”
When the site polled its readers in October, it found that they cared more about global issues after having a baby.
Romper walks a delicate line since it’s readers are politically engaged across the spectrum. The site has found its sweet spot with posts that explain important issues like the healthcare bill without taking sides, said editor in chief Kate Ward.
Wheeler Johnson added that the site speaks to moms as whole women, with interests other than parenting. “There’s this idea that your brain shuts off [once you become a parent], but if anything they’re more fired up,” she said.
Scroll through the site’s Instagram page, and you’ll find countless memes about the joys of Target. These aren’t sponsored posts—millennial moms love the store so much, that Romper’s editors are practically compelled to plug the brand. “They have no allegiance like their allegiance to Target—I-want-to-die-in-the-aisle, bury-me-in-the-parking-lot allegiance,” said Wheeler Johnson.
Their readers also love Carter’s, Chipotle, Taco Bell and Starbucks, and have a passion for things like secret menu items.
So what inspires millennials to congregate around a brand? It comes down to two characteristics, said Green: “They’re into brands that have a very specific identity and have a lot to offer.”