Can advertising and marketing make you a better parent?

We all want to be better parents. It’s one of the most human instincts we will ever have. You only get one chance with a small person’s childhood; moments count every day. These moments are extremely intimate and utterly magical. From when they first respond to you as babies by nuzzling in or the first giggle, you’re hooked. The responsibility to give kids the best life, make the right decisions and give them the best possible version of you is palpable.

I have written before here about our two boys: Harry, the youngest, has just turned one (his key trick is blowing raspberries), and Charlie is three and a half (he just loves collecting sticks).

The point I am trying to get across here is that we’re dealing with a purity of emotion and such intimacy, so how the hell could it have relevance to the commercial world? How could a marketing message seem anything but frivolous and intrusive in this context?

The simple fact is that neither advertising nor marketing will make you a better parent (only you can do that). However, we can and must find better ways to connect with the situation as life gets ever busier.  This is only going to get more complicated as one-in-four parents are now millennials.

We undertook global research and 20 in-depth interviews with parents across New Zealand to find out more about the current state of families, and here’s a snapshot of this research showing five better ways we can connect with parents:

1. Recognise the heartbreak of always having to compromise

Millions of parents deal with the pressure and joy of children every day along with the reality of being working parents, (juggling time, budgets and the myriad decisions that come with it). They also deal with the little discussed and heartbreaking concept of ‘compromise’. Whatever role you are playing, whether the loving parent or the worker bee, you can’t quite devote the time you want to either. A lot of the sacrifice is that you’re not being the parent you think you could be. Equally, you are not giving your colleagues and clients the attention they need. This is the modern parenting reality that we need to be in tune with, both in terms of empathising with each other and the audiences we are marketing to. Be aware this is an imperfect picture that is a very permanent fixture.

2. Relax your audience, don’t stress them out

None of us is perfect. In fact, perfection erases humanity in this Instagram-led world. We are all looking to connect with other imperfect parents. We want to hear the wider voice of parents saying: “It’s okay, you don’t have to get it right all the time.” To take this further, what is right anyway? As marketers, we can have a clear role here to relieve the pressure and confirm the reality of social norms that can actually give parents self-esteem and not actively subtract it. Persil did this very nicely when they launched their ‘Dirt Is Good’ campaign.

MotherPlucker also does this nicely out of the UK:

And Coca-cola Argentina also showed it was okay for parents to be tired:


God knows, we don’t need to see more perfectly dressed little monsters in white smiling rather smugly or Stepford mums taking fancy strollers out of SUVs. To be imperfect is to be human, let it flow.

3. Being a parent is massive fun – it’s that simple

Mums and Dads know that the best fun they have is with their kids. Our kids are more fun than most of the adults I know. Parents want to see this and the rich source of storytelling and comedy that comes with it. You only have to see how parenting dominates platforms such as Facebook to understand how thoroughly engaged happy families are.

4. Get personal, but don’t get creepy

This sounds obvious, but hardly anyone in New Zealand is doing it well. The standout example here is Nappies Direct. Pia (the owner) sends out handwritten notes with orders to members, and for many parents, this just makes them feel they are not alone. That said, you definitely don’t want to follow in the footsteps of Target, which found out a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did. 

5. Thank parents for the legacy they are creating

Being a family is the absolute cornerstone of our society. Choosing to be a parent is the biggest responsibility any of us will ever have. By taking on this role you assume a mantle much bigger than yourself. It’s about embracing the past and ensuring a protected future. This cannot be communicated enough. It’s the social glue that’s essential to our emotional well-being.

This is a great example of a wonderful insight that speaks to us all with fantastic execution. We see ourselves’, our mum, our grandma and a better day. Being bold with a piece of communication like this, aimed at peoples’ families, says that you have the same values too. Your ‘cause’ is their ‘cause’ and you can believe in each other with a shared integrity.   

Ultimately, we are always selling (and people get that). However, as part of our success strategies, we should aim to be useful, augment family occasions, save parents’ time and make people feel great. We need to be offering great quality products, good value, nutritional food and do the right thing. If we believe that business can make the world a better place—and it should—then shouldn’t we also be making better products?

So, in the final analysis, we should be aiming to support people in being better parents because we should be putting out marketing and products that we would be proud to hear about and keen to buy for our own children. To this end, we can and should always have in our minds that it is our mission to help people be better parents. What more noble reason to come to work is there than that?

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