Art & Commerce: Modern Motherhood

I’m a mom, not a moron. That rather harsh statement crystallized for me, a mother who is also a marketer, while reviewing our latest research about moms.

More than four years ago, the Ms. & Mom Marketing Group at DraftFCB embarked on a research journey to find and more fully understand the women and the moms we marketers put into our creative briefs.

What we found was a large group of women with children who would like to tell us to get a life. These women with children are tired of old stereotypes, of being portrayed as one-dimensional “moms” who either work and have no time, or don’t work and have nothing but time. They are women with children who are married, single, working, doing, experiencing and, importantly, are fed up and often offended by the simplistic views painted of them.

Wanting to know more about these modern moms and what they’d like to see from marketers recently led us to conduct in-depth interviews with 50 mothers in four U.S. cities.

Chief among what we found is that moms today are multidimensional in ways far beyond the historical great divide of “working” or “non-working.” It’s not where she spends her day but how she mothers her children that is a more telling indicator for marketers.

There are three identifiable segments of modern moms:

Sacrificers: These are women most reminiscent of the moms featured in many TV commercials. They pretty much live for their children. They do, do, do—immersing themselves in their children’s activities, often at the expense of themselves, seeing their children as an extension of themselves. They believe a “bad” mom is a missing mom and consequently choose not to work; they’re all about the family unit … and not much outside of it.

Hardworking dominants: These women are hardworking all-around, truly in survival mode, trying to better themselves and to give their kids a better life than they had. They are in charge, the “chief home officer.” These moms work primarily for financial reasons and seek to “take care” of their children, hoping they in turn will grow up to be balanced and successful.

Experientials: These women seem to have achieved “evolved motherhood,” in which their roles as a woman and mother are in balance. There are layers of complexity in their lives. Their goal is to create interesting children through exposure, experience and quality time. They see their children as individuals in their own right and see themselves in the same way. They frequently work because they “need” to, i.e., not for financial reasons (often it is non-paying work) but because work is simply part of their DNA.

Regardless of their mothering style, these 21st century moms are different from those who came before, and to reach them marketers need to change many current perceptions.

There are no perfect moms and they are not happy being portrayed as such. “The moms on TV are not the moms on the playground,” as one put it. “[Marketers] set the bar too high. Sexy and skinny is not part of my life. It adds to the pressure, and I already have enough to worry about.”

Perfect families, too, are a myth. Moms see the “calm, interactive family with everyone sitting around the dinner table quietly talking and enjoying each other” as a complete joke. Their reality is most often grab-and-go meals with those around the table complaining, interrupting and experiencing more distractions than discussions. Marketers may repeatedly put families in a pretty magazine spread, but that’s not where they live.

Surprising for marketers, moms cook. And they are weary of being told they don’t have to. Moms want the choice: to cook, or not. Away from “scratch” towards “semi-homemade” or “assembled” may be a better message.

The bottom line: Moms are not who marketers think they are and we are not giving them what they want. What do they want? A dose of reality that taps deep into her emotional space.

Here are some truths about modern moms:

Moms are in love with their kids. The touchy-feely part, the affection, the hugs. At the end of the day, that’s what makes motherhood worthwhile.

Nutrition is a concern, not an obsession. Marketers may be obsessed with it, but moms are not. They believe in balanced, self-governing, street-smart nutrition.

Moms want some everyday fun … like baking cookies or making Jell-O Jigglers. They love the imagination that goes with being a mom; it’s why they got into it in the first place. No woman ever signed up to mop up milk spills all day.

A fun and attainable dose of getting away is a must. Suave’s print ad featuring a woman with a turban of dirty laundry piled high atop her head indicates the reality that, yes, I’m a mom, and I spend an inordinate amount of time doing laundry, but I need a few minutes to do my hair, too.

The environment is important to moms. They’ll buy from companies who are responsible, but their real interest is in what they can do. They want education from marketers on how to do their bit.

In truth, the world of modern moms is full of exciting possibilities for marketers. Better connections can certainly be made. Loosen the boundaries and give her some freedom. Affirm her choices, remove the “shoulds,” let her have fun, and help her experience her reality, not ours. She is a mom, not a moron, and she will thank you.