B&T’s favourite marketers to the Millennials, Brian Mitchell PhD and Evan Mitchell (Love & Wine and howandy.net), are back with their latest column. This time they examine the roll of of mums in advertising and argue things need to change (and fast) if you’re not going to infuriate the Ys.
“Gen Y” can conjure visions of body piercing and sleeve tattoos, social justice protesting, round-the-world barefoot backpacking, environmental activism, experimental food tastes, cultural/pop cultural/multi-cultural pursuits – stereotypical stuff.
But scratch this generation and you’ll also find an array of counterintuitive characteristics. Take the nature of their partner relationships. The generational tendency towards restless reinvention and recreation of identify would suggest a casualness in their co-habiting practices. But not so, Gen Y are having their kids earlier than Gen X largely did. And, perhaps most surprisingly, more and more Gen Y wives are abandoning the juggling act of career/home-life, for the stay-at-home version of motherhood.
So is this one product category where the marketers have got it right with Gen Y, by sticking to the conventional images and themes? Where…?
A mother comforts her crying child – applies a bandage – paints on antiseptic – dabs with a tissue…
A mother watches on as a sleeping child snuggles into fabric-softener-softened covers (there’s frequently a fluffy duckling or endearingly clumsy puppy in this one)…
A mother prepares a nutritional snack for her boisterous two and a half kids in the background…
A mother smilingly wipes down benchtops and other unmentionable surfaces, providing a germ-free family environment…
A mother carefully backs out of a driveway, or makes the school drop-off, in a reassuringly safe and sturdy looking SUV…
With even the personality quirks of mum, clichéd.
All vestiges of individuality leeched out – “mother” as an archetype, a model, not a person. (Post-modern critical theorists have blamed this imagery on an evil patriarchy – but really it’s just a decades-long effective selling meme.)
Traditional representations of motherhood have overdosed on “nurturing” – and motherhood has usurped all the other aspects of personality and femininity. Fifty years of homemaker and child-carer messages seem to say, “You are a mother, not only first and foremost, but last and everlastingly.”
Is this an image of motherhood – or more importantly, an image of me-as-mother – that aspirational Gen Y are going to embrace?
Not likely. This is an offense to the single-minded generational claim to “omnipotentiality” – I can be/do anything. Gen Y mothers are not about to cede all other facets of their image and identity to motherhood. They want due consideration of their enduring appeal/seductiveness/aspirations/tastes/individuality/uniqueness/quirkiness. They want it from their partners, and even from their kids, to whom they see themselves as friends, confidantes and co-experiencers. They want it from friends and social media contacts. And they want it big time from any brands that wish to engage with them as mothers.
Motherhood to these Millennials is not a basis of self-renunciation. It’s one more element in their ongoing edginess. Hardly surprising, in a social media atmosphere that stresses minimizing “damage” to the body from pregnancy, and unrealistic races to be back insta-bikini-fit like all those super models, movie stars, reality TV personalities, slashies, and other assorted celebs. With Gen Y and motherhood, image comes first and trumps more intimate aspects of identity.
As femininity has been comprehensively overhauled, so “motherhood” for marketers – in feel, style, aesthetic, role and representation – needs to play catch-up.
Time to bring the motherhood angle up to date – with a remake and remodel.