Unleashing The Creative ‘Otherness’ Of ‘Motherness’

Unleashing The Creative ‘Otherness’ Of ‘Motherness’
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Julia Spencer (main photo with kids) is the co-founder of MIA (Mums In Ads) and an adland creative. In this guest post, Spencer humorously describes how motherhood (to four) changed her copywriting and so much for the better…

One morning last week, my two-year-old decided he wanted to take his balance bike out for a spin. The problem was, he didn’t inform me of his intentions before hightailing it out of our front yard and in an unknown direction.

L-R in photo: The author, Julia Spencer, and kids – Charlie, Hazel, Tommy and Autumn.

Sprinting in a panic through the neighbourhood with my seven-month old on my hip, his head bobbling like a dashboard figurine, I eventually located the little fugitive a few blocks away. His helmet on backwards and his sister’s gumboots on, he had pulled over to watch the “frucks” and diggers at a nearby construction site. In that moment of rage/relief, my mind processed two very different thoughts. The first was “thank God I have pants on” (the odds were stacked against me on this, honestly). The second thought, more randomly, was about a strategist who had written me a creative brief for a breakfast cereal almost a decade prior. 

Segue! 

I was a junior copywriter in the only female creative team of a large Sydney agency. The strategist was a lovely older, single guy. He seemed really old to me at the time, but in writing this, I’m realising that I’m perhaps roughly his age now. Thought suppressed.

The breakfast cereal in question was marketed exclusively to women. Because you only ever eat cereal at breakfast time, (cut to me eating it like a possessed ghoul as I breastfeed at 2am) the brief outlined the morning routine for our fictional female consumer, ‘Melissa’. I remember asking the strategist whether ‘Melissa’ was a mum or not. His answer? “It doesn’t matter, we want both audiences to see themselves in her.”

Um, what? 

Before kids my mornings looked, shall we say, a little different than they do now – not so much maniacal, neighbourhood street-panting I’d say. I do sometimes reminisce about pre-kids, morning me. I see her in my mind, redoing her uneven winged-eyeliner in frustrated rush and I want to hug her… before slapping her hard and screaming “sleep in while you can you stupid fool!”. Of course, pre-kids me couldn’t have predicted the delicious cesspool of creative insight in store for her when she was quizzing that strategist. And she couldn’t quite identify the exact brand of nonsense he was pedalling. The only mornings she knew existed were her own and, ironically, the very formulaic ones mirrored back to her on tv ads; those cloned ‘Melissa’s’ so bland and flavourless, they appealed to all palettes and none – much like the cereal at hand. So, I drafted what would be the first version of a very unmemorable script: ‘We open on a woman in the morning getting ready for her day.’ 

After having my first child, I worked hard professionally to suppress my new ‘otherness’ – my ‘motherness’. Mums, as I too was led to believe, were frumpy and uncool so I didn’t talk about any of the fascinating and often bizarre minutiae of parenting. I reasoned it would be like giving my agency pals a play-by-play of an awesome dream I had; eye-gougingly boring to absolutely everyone except me. But the thought of motherhood being foreign in so many agencies, particularly in the creative departments, was baffling. 

Motherhood unearths a whole new creative gold mine of insights and understanding. And the storytelling! I swear, even the best creatives couldn’t dream up this homogenised lunacy they call ‘parenting’. And while plenty of this would indeed bore the pants off my workmates, the vast majority of it would be a handy little conduit between brands and the consumers they’re trying to connect with. Yet, motherhood in creative agencies is often a lonely experience – if you get to experience it at all. 

It’s no secret that the agency model has made little space for primary-caregiving parents (for the sake of this article let’s call them ‘mums’. Because, you know, they almost always are.) Agency culture has always taken pride in the work-hard play-hard mentality, which in my younger years I could do with relish. But with kids, the game changes. Even if I wanted to continue that way of working, I would literally be arrested if I did so instead of, say, adequately supervising my own children. And like very advanced tamagotchis, it turns out children must also be fed, cleaned – the list goes on! 

So I discovered something as simple as flexible work and as complex as ‘mum stigma’ would be a real deal-breaker for world-leading creative agencies. Women determined to stick it out needed to disguise their motherness and surrender to full-time, because it seemed nothing was going to sway the rigid ways of working for many agencies. Then the pangolin turned to the bat and muttered “hold my beer”. 

Skip to 2022 and it seems those endless Zoom meetings unveiled the bleary-eyed Bruce Waynes to each buttoned-up Batman. CEO’s, interns and everyone in-between having their webcams expose their lives outside of the office. Work hours spilled out all over the place while life and career explored new ways to be friends.

For us mums, our carefully suppressed ‘motherness’ was finally exposed for all to see –  as evident by the small, pyjama-wearing, messy-haired humans that quietly (ha!) roamed the spaces behind us. Their squeals of delight and screams of disgust being blasted into the ears of important clients. Important clients who, as it turned out, were mothers too and knowingly saluted us in the form of kindly pretending their eardrums weren’t now permanently damaged. 

With the mould now broken and more flexible ways of working being shunted onto agencies, it seems part-time mums might reap the benefits of this new regime. And as the briefs keep coming in and the work continues on, maybe audiences will finally get a glimpse of ‘Melissa’ they actually recognise.

‘We open on a cold morning where a frantic woman is running down a suburban street, a small infant bumping up and down on her hip as she runs…’

 

 

 

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Julia Spencer mums in ads

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