Do women change when they become mothers?

02 : 03 : 2018 Female Futures : Motherhood : Advertising
Nourish Baby, New York Nourish Baby, New York

Becoming a mother can affect a woman emotionally, physically and practically… but it rarely brings fundamental change to what we value and what we don’t.

Beth Bentley, global vice-president of strategy, Virtue Worldwide

As a new mother – and a brand strategist – I find myself caught between two worlds. One day I’m wandering in the baby aisle wondering who on earth makes the decisions about how these brands are positioned. And the next I’m in a boardroom staring at a brand’s ‘gatekeeper mum’ segmentation analysis, wondering who on earth these pen portraits are in the real world. They don’t describe the mothers I know. We don’t morph into a new consumer typology when we have a baby, adopt a shared mum world view. Quite the opposite. We become more complex consumers, not less. Our role in life is broader now, not narrower. Becoming a mother involves both change, but also unchange.

The change? Well, our spending patterns and triggers evolve. We buy things we didn’t before, possibly in different ways – shopping more often, more online or in altogether different stores. Money can be tighter than usual as parenthood brings altered working patterns, and more pressures on the family budget. This means concepts of value might shift, or loyalty may look different.

There is no doubt our media habits change – just look at every new mother’s Google search history and chat-app usage. Sudden, deep needs for information on sleep schedules, swaddling, baby carriers, evolving into searches like ‘wtf is tummy time?’ and ‘are baby swimming lessons a massive waste of money?’. I think I’d rather share a no-make-up-selfie than my search history.

And it’s fair to say our influences change, or at least, the dynamics of influence around us. It's inevitable – you try some of those searches and see what happens to your social feeds and ad-pop-ups. Algorithms drive us ever deeper into the filter bubble. Marketers are well aware of the power of the Insta-mum – some being mini-media empires with half-million communities, product lines and international publishing contracts – but the continual co-opting of these women’s reach and tone via sponsored content plays often feels clumsy and opportunistic. As Millennials, the nascent blogger-turned-celebrity generation, we can smell this stuff a mile away.

[Being] a mother is anything but boring and predictable, so how come so much of the marketing aimed at us is?

But, what about the unchange?

Of course, becoming a mother can affect a woman emotionally, physically and practically – in her career, relationships and social life. But it rarely brings fundamental change to what we’re into, how we dress, what we value and what we don’t. We’re still the same complex, idiosyncratic, sophisticated Millennial consumers we were before, just with longer shopping lists and less time.

Becoming a mother is anything but boring and predictable, so how come so much of the marketing aimed at us is? Where are the deep human truths, the wit, the diversity, the attitude, the levity, the #realtalk, the insight, frankly the…effort… in all this advertising and editorial aimed at me now? Am I to live in a lens-flare world of domestic pastel perfection, smoothing the cotton-soft edge of a nappy against my cheek? Must I be infantalised by baby food brands and their baby talk product descriptions? And will I learn to enjoy being greeted by decade-old stock shots on your website?

We mothers are full of warmth for brands that understand the complexity of our lives and find ways to help lighten the load. Boots, for instance, has a Parenting Club as part of its loyalty programme that sends personalised monthly newsletters pointing to specialist editorial, product reviews and discounts closely linked to my baby’s developmental milestones, so it is there with me every step of the way. But other examples are few and far between. So brands, show us you get us. Please, find a way. Recognise us as people. Don’t define us by life stage. See us as individuals, not segments in the targeting model.

Beth Bentley is global vice-president of strategy at Virtue Worldwide, the creative marketing agency of Vice Media. She is a mother of one and pregnant with her second baby. While on maternity leave she started an Instagram blog about modern baby weaning after struggling to find relatable modern infant nutrition resources and has now been commissioned by Penguin Random House to turn her blog into a cookbook for Millennial parents, to be released in June 2018.