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Missing the Mark on American Moms

Okay, so In the Land of Women wasn’t the best movie in the world. But this one scene  really stuck with me, for days. It seemed familiar somehow, and in a way that had nothing to do with romance. In this clip, Adam Brody is so well meaning, so sincere, so self-involved, and so utterly clueless.

Then it struck me—brands behave like this lovelorn twenty-something all the time. Hell, agencies do too. Thinking about this begs the question:

Are we so infatuated with what we have to say that we fail to listen?

Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity. The more we see something the more we feel we know it. We start to make assumptions. Take it for granted even. In few places is this more true than in people’s understanding of moms. We know moms, right? After all, everybody’s got one. And we see them everywhere… at the bus stop, at the pool, at the grocery store. We know they work hard, love their kids, and constantly amaze us with their ability to get things done. No wonder there are so many moms on TV, in movies, and in every other commercial we see. Moms are figured out, right?

Maybe not. Increasingly we hear from women that the moms on TV don’t represent them. She says few marketers truly get her life, much less offer ways to make it better.

Advertisers spend billions of dollars every year to capture her attention, yet moms don’t think marketers get it…

  • 3 in 4 moms feel advertisers have no idea what it’s like to be a mother.
  • 4 in 5 moms feel that advertising doesn’t accurately depict their lives.
  • 3 in 4 moms say TV advertising doesn’t connect with them.
  • 1/3+ of moms are offended by the way they are portrayed in advertising
    (Source: Mintel)

So what gives? With millions in research dollars at stake, are we listening? Perhaps we feel so confident in our assumptions (Mom wants to be the hero. Others?) that we stop trying to understand her and focus solely on what it is we have to say.

I’ll give you an example. I was reading a post on the mommy-blogosphere where women were commenting on the ads they found most and least relatable. The following comment was posted about Electrolux’s campaign featuring Kelly Rippa:

“Who is that woman? She’s super hot, her kids are always spanking clean (as is her house) and she wiggles her nose to bake cookies, while doing the dishes, while hosting a dinner party for 12. I don’t know any women like that, and if I did I’d hate them.”

Clearly Electrolux was so excited to tell us how their products can help women become a femme-bot that they failed to notice women are generally put off by imagery that polishes them to perfection.

And since when did we decide that perfection is interesting? Often the realities we learn from moms are both more remarkable and more affecting. I spent the better part of 2008 driving across the country with an anthropologist and a documentary film crew to get a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of middle American moms. One woman’s child dipped toilet paper in the toilet and then ate it right in front of us. Another woman fell all over herself to tell me that she was wearing Ann Taylor pants and they only cost her $7!!!! These women laughed until they cried, were open about the triumphs and travails of parenthood. The year we spent listening taught us a lot about how to depict them in a way they can relate to.

A few real mom confessions:

  • “I lie. I tell my daughter, “You are only two years-old. It says right here on the packaging you can only have two cookies.”
  • “I forgot to strap my newborn daughter into her car seat. When I got home she just kind of fell out.”
  • “I let my six-year-old watch Access Hollywood with me.”
  • “I don’t know how to ask for help. I just know how to scream at my husband.”

I promise you, marketers of the world: the women you’re speaking to are fascinating. They have a great sense of humor. Strong (and often unexpected) opinions. Tremendous resourcefulness. An occasional irreverence. It’s not that your product doesn’t fit into her life. It’s that her life doesn’t revolve around your brand. But perhaps if we listen and pay attention, she’ll give us the permission we seek to speak into her world. A friendship will begin. And she’ll pay attention to what we have to say.

Ultimately, Adam Brody’s crime in this scene wasn’t his self-involvement. It was his obliviousness. Perhaps we can all admit we haven’t been the best listeners. We’ve been more excited about our RTBs and our main point importance that (at times) we lose our way. But women are forgiving – give her a chance and she’ll tell you all sorts of things. Just be ready to hear the unexpected.

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