Marketers Don’t Understand Modern Moms, Saatchi Survey Says

Ads need to get real—and lighten up

Memo to marketers: When it comes to moms, get real. Stop focusing on motherhood as a job, and start talking to moms like the multifaceted, multidimensional human beings they are.

That's the key takeaway from Saatchi & Saatchi's global study on "Moms and Marketing: IRL (In Real Life)," which queried nearly 8,000 mothers with children ranging from newborns to 17-year-olds in China, Germany, Italy, India, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S. (including U.S. Hispanics).

According to the survey, 51 percent of respondents believe advertisers have an outdated view of moms and don't understand them. That's a scary number for marketers, given that there are roughly 2 billion moms in the world. So, put another way, approximately 1 billion moms—all potential customers—feel marketers are not speaking to them in authentic ways.

"Yes there are brands confidently exploring the rich word of motherhood in all its glory: P&G and Unilever," said Mary Mills, worldwide director of strategic intelligence at Saatchi. "But the reality is one of the reasons they are so famous is because there are so few."

Moms dislike when marketers portray their role as "the toughest job in the world," an exhausting daily grind emphasized "by showing frazzled drudgery with the odd moment of saintly pride," according to the study.

So, advertisers and agencies should "stop treating motherhood as a job," and quit constantly positioning goods and services as furthering women's maternal "careers," said Mills. "Motherhood is about being, not doing. Sure, there is a lot of 'doing' involved, and we aren't saying otherwise. But the aim of every mum is surely to be a good mother, not to do well at motherhood."

Moms play many roles

What's more, moms believe that ads too often depict motherhood as a sacred duty, putting moms on pedestals.

"Don't focus on perfection" or portray your products as the means to attaining it, Mills advised marketers. After a while, such ads "begin to look alike," and moms tune them out or get resentful. "Avoid the 'happy housewife,' the one-dimensional caretaker, the striving perfectionist," said Mills. "Motherhood is not an innate ability, and moms feel they never quite nail it, so remind her that mastery is not required."

Those surveyed view motherhood as an emotionally complex endeavor, often flawed and packed with idiosyncrasies, requiring them to take on numerous roles.

According to the survey, unsurprisingly, moms mainly see themselves as "carers," spending nearly half their time providing for their family's emotional needs. That said, they also serve as "elders," dispensing cultural wisdom (13 percent of the time) and "coaches," guiding kids on how to behave (11 percent). To a lesser extent, moms also can serve as "playmates," "heroes," "friends" and "fans."

"Each of these roles provides your brand and business with relatively uncontested territory in which to engage mums," said Mills. So, marketers should mix things up and acknowledge the many parts moms play, rather than narrowly focusing on an outdate paradigm, said Mills: "Mums don't want you to help them do a job—but they will let you help them be everything they want to be."

And, at least sometimes, "let her be the goofy one for a change," a role advertising usually reserves for dad, said Mills. Overly earnest advertising can be a turnoff, and marketers can gain more acceptance if they lighten up every once and a while and "let mom be fun."

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.