London MAD published an odd piece criticizing advertisers and advertising agencies for using outdated and inaccurate clichés when depicting families—plus, the trade journal suggested data-based scenarios to improve relevance and realism. It’s tough to respond to this piece. On the one hand, trade journals are hardly qualified to be schooling advertising agencies on how to do anything. On the other hand, it ultimately points to the lack of diversity in White advertising agencies, where the exclusive staffs are so culturally clueless, they can’t even connect with their own group. On the third hand, there’s nothing more offensive than when good old-fashioned cultural cluelessness runs in the family. Finally—on the fourth hand—most annoying are the agencies shamelesslyly depicting uncommon-yet-clichéd families in order to cut through the clutter.
Advertisers — Drop The Family Cliches And Target The Real Opportunities
By Sean Hargrave
Advertising generally relies on cliches, and so it’s little surprise that when families are represented in advertisements that one of the many fallback options will come to the fore—particularly at this festive time of year.
The favourite one, for me, is the husband on the phone organising a financial matter that the little woman behind him wouldn’t possibly understand—so generally sticks to the washing up or hoovering. Then there’s the children who are either sickly adorable or having a teenage sulk that can usually only be overcome by some amazing new combination of spices that mum or dad (remember it’s not financial, so dad doesn’t have to be on the phone) can throw in a pot to spice up dinner.
The great thing about digital is that it’s data driven—and so the industry is under increasing pressure to prove or disprove assumptions with research. That’s exactly what OMD UK has just done, with Time Inc UK. The picture that emerges from their research with families is fascinating. The macro view is one we’ve all come to realise is happening around us. The traditional mum and dad roles are merging. Of the traditional mum roles, two-thirds of families now share child care and a third of parents share shopping decisions. With the traditional dad role, working and earning money is now shared by both parents (41%). These all mark significant increases from research carried out just half a dozen years ago.
If we move on to cliches, 41% of families with children at home argue less than once a month and 18% don’t argue at all. So that’s nearly two in three families where the rows depicted in adverts are actually rare, rather than typical. And here’s another thing—two in three 16- to-24-year-olds and 35- to-54-year-olds each appreciate having family time together. The teenager or millennial who is being forced to sit down to dinner or attend a wedding just doesn’t pan out as an accurate representation of most families.
Technology is not causing a rift between sulky kids on Instagram and parents wanting to spend time together. In fact, the researchers suggest that the popularity of second screening means families are increasingly likely to sit together and watch a show that would be ruined by online spoilers otherwise. Thus, more than two in three families see sitting down and watching television as a way of spending quality family time together.
So, cliches aside, what should marketers be looking out for?
Well, not surprisingly, nearly two in three mums are swapping products to save money as well as taking a look at their finances due to the tough economic times the country has been through. So, maybe advertisers should consider swapping the roles and having mum on the phone to a financial services company while dad hovers around in the background?
If you’re looking for an opportunity that comes from reevaluating the family unit, here’s one you might want to bring into the next brainstorm. It’s not directly mentioned in the research, but here’s my thought—and you can have it for free.
We’ve all noticed grandparents are being increasingly asked to help out with childcare because of both parents working. Hence, the research shows that two in three “grannyminders” are asked to look after children in a typical week, yet only 15% are ever rewarded financially or with a treat.
If that doesn’t ring a target gift market bell for a campaign to focus on, then I don’t know what will. You see, sometimes by scraping away the cliches you can actually get to the real opportunities that are out there. How many parents do you think are out there who know they should treat grandparents to an extra special gift this Christmas? How many grandparents have you seen portrayed in Christmas television adverts this year receiving a thank you gift? None, right? How many spas have you seen advertising a “treat nan” offer or family days out locations, such as historic houses or theme parks, running a “bring grandad for free” offer on family tickets? I imagine the answer is still none, right?
So drop the cliches, look at the data, and that is just one huge opportunity that will leap out of the research of looking at what is out there—rather than what previous assumptions have told you is typical.