March 4, 2016

Pub Talk: Keeping Mum

By Robyn Swan


As the nation celebrates Mother’s Day, we look at the intensely fraught area of parenting and the role of brands within it.

Breastfeeding or formula? Additional paternity leave, or a return to work? Pink and blue, or gender neutral? All of these decisions are fraught with emotion and clearly a personal decision for every parent. This is partly because everyone wants the best for their child, but also because these choices are outward signs of people’s parenting style – and therefore how good a parent others perceive them to be.

With social media habits so deeply entrenched in parents’ lives (millennial mothers have an average of 3.4 social networks and spend 17.4 hours a week on social sites) this judgement is far more public. We’ve all seen the clickbait articles about parents who’ve been lambasted on Facebook for a variety of ‘sins’. But this trend isn’t just about naming and shaming the negligent: it also hits everyday parents who are simply trying their hardest. In fact, research shows that 90% of mothers have felt that their parenting decisions have been judged on social media while 88% of millennial fathers feel pressure to be ‘the perfect dad’.

This sense of judgement gives brands the opportunity to support parents more than ever. Recently, we’ve seen the rise of honest parenting, with people being open about the fear, anxiety, boredom and loss of self that some parents feel – alongside the joy, fulfilment and love. The brands that acknowledge this honesty, and recognise that bringing up children is hard work – really, really hard work – are reaping rewards. Brands that engage in open conversation and then help make parenting a little easier – whether by offering shortcuts, parenting hacks or empathy – are appreciated by those who are looking for acceptance that they are simply doing their best.

At the same time, bold brands which pick a side in a debate are really reaping the rewards. Jan Zijderveld, president of Unilever Europe, says brands which take a stand  as those that don’t. For some brands, their point of view is becoming increasingly controversial and with good reason – it works. They stand out from the crowd. For example, Paddy Power regularly angers huge swathes of the population with their provocative religious iconography – including the apostles gambling during the Last Supper, and Jesus trying to clean up the scandal-hit Italian football industry. But their punters love it, and the betting brand has learnt that by polarising opinion they connect better with those who they want to engage with – so see more people gambling with them.

So, should parenting brands have a point of view on how you bring up children? Should they risk upsetting, or even demonising, some mothers to gain standing with others? After all, would any parent trust a product from a brand which courts controversy? Well, maybe.

We think the answer depends on the stance that’s being taken – and how brand makes their point. If a parenting brand used the same tone of voice as Paddy Power it would most likely lead to disaster. There’s no doubt that mothers are, above all, looking for support. But for a brand, staying true to its core values and standing up for itself (and its target audience) could be a valuable marketing strategy.

A word of warning: if this is your strategy, then knowing your audience is key – your message needs to resonate with them and only alienate people who’d never buy your product.

Ahead of Mother’s Day this Sunday, here are some of our favourite examples:



Milk formula brand Similac took a strong stance on divisive parenting, imploring people to stop judging themselves and other families, and calling for an end to the ‘mummy wars’. This campaign unites most mothers despite their differences. This is particularly strong territory for a formula brand – which is stuck in between a rock and a hard place when trying to promote bottled milk without dismissing breast milk. The result is a heart-warming campaign where real-life mothers discuss their experiences of being judged and the brand issues a rallying cry to #EndMummyWars.


In July 2015 pram company Bugaboo posted an image to its Facebook account of a model in running gear pushing a pram. The brand was pilloried by an army of sarcastic parents for not presenting a realistic, or even achievable, view of motherhood – resulting in negative press on national news sites. As a high-end, aspirational brand Bugaboo stuck by the image, saying, ‘We want to inspire mums and dads everywhere to explore the world with their families, while keeping up with an active and healthy lifestyle.’ Subsequently, it found its target market on the more motivational platform of Instagram, where the brand’s followers lauded the post as encouraging.



Ariel’s current Share the Load campaign takes a strong stand on gender equality and the role parents have in shaping the next generation – and underlining that parenting doesn’t stop when a child grows older.

The advert is a powerful apology from father to grow-up daughter, illustrating the generational legacy of responsibilities at home. While the daughter looks after her son, father and husband, while running her office and home, her husband asks for a cup of tea. The father writes her a note. ‘Sorry you do this alone,’ he writes. ‘Sorry I never told you when you were ‘playing house’ that this was not your job alone. But I never helped either.’

By showing the world through the lens of a proud father who regrets how his behaviour has contributed to the life expectations upon his daughter, the India-specific campaign is effective at rallying fathers into action, rather than alienating them.

The advert, which was shared by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg this week, ends with the father pledging to help his wife – and asking “Why is laundry only a mother’s job?” Viewers are asked to join the campaign to #SharetheLoad. Watch the video here. To find out more about how to successfully engage with modern parents, join us on 14th April for Join the Dots…on Digital Mums, a breakfast briefing event with Netmums and Channel Mum founder Siobhan Freegard, and Unity co-founder Nik Govier. To attend, register here.