I’ve hardly purchased any new items for my second baby on the way, but I’ve wanted to — this is evidenced by the smattering of product screenshots I’ve saved.
In the middle of the night, when I can’t seem to get my nine-month-pregnant body comfortable in my monster sausage of a maternity pillow, I’ll move to the sofa and just lie there, feeling every single worry about the months ahead creep into my brain. At that point, I’ll grab my phone to read more reviews of miracle swaddles.
Buying things (or at least thinking about buying things) can feel comforting, even numbing. New parents are especially vulnerable, drowning in big questions: How strong is my relationship with my partner? How will I ask for what I need? What will happen to my career? How will I maintain my identity in a society that thinks I now only want to discuss poopy nappies and nipple flow?
That sort of crap is hard to think about. What’s one easy thing I can do right now to feel some sense of control? I know: Click “buy now” on a smartphone-connected bassinet that has 2387 five-star reviews and promises to change my life.
I have a massive stack of parenting books on my desk. Some of them tell me I'm doing an awesome job raising my kid (those books, I dog-ear and pet lovingly). Others tell me I'm screwing everything up, from bed time to screen time. I devour them all, for my job, but also because there's part of me that keeps looking for that thing to cling to.
Marketers, of course, know that we spend out of fear. And you, fellow parent whose online shopping cart is filled with 39 baby items you may or may not need, should probably know that they know.
Atlantic writer Joe Pinsker spent two days at the 14th annual Marketing to Moms conference in Manhattan, finding out how market researchers talk about motherhood behind closed doors. As Pinsker reports, mothers are “estimated to make the vast majority of household purchasing decisions and collectively spend more than $2 trillion [$AU2.8 trillion] per year” in the US. And companies are racing to get through to them.
How are they doing this? By pinpointing the top stressors in mums’ lives and finding opportunities for brands. A goal is to show mothers that they are with them on their journey, and then offer a consumerist solution to their struggles: Simply, buy more stuff.
It was strange and somewhat disorienting to witness scores of marketing professionals try to cultivate empathy for tens of millions of people, cataloguing their every aspiration and fear and then breaking for a catered lunch. Over the course of about a dozen hours of presentations, panels, and “networking breaks,” a bleak depiction of modern motherhood emerged. Today’s mums, as marketers see them, are racked with doubt and guilt, and constantly overwhelmed.
Marketing data has shown that millennial mothers worry about things such as money and crime and sleep, and companies are aiming to, as one consultant put it, “turn worry into wonder”. But Pinsker writes: “It seemed to me, though, that marketing probably adds to mothers’ stress.”
For the most part, he reports, this wasn’t something the attendees were particularly concerned about. Instead, they explored all the successful ways that companies acknowledged the specific fears of motherhood, and presented solutions that could be purchased with a credit card.
Stressed out that your child is behind schedule on the milestone of learning how to ride a bike? Outdoor equipment store REI takes the shame out by offering in-store lessons. Worried that you’re feeding your kid too much junk food? Oreo started selling cookie gift boxes that are reserved for special occasions.
Do not begrudge the mum for her temporary inability to see the value in your product, the moral of M2Moms seemed to be. Only when you acknowledge that her life is hell will she be open to what you’d like to sell her.
Sure, this is all Marketing 101 — there’s nothing new about companies zooming in on consumers’ problems and promising they can be fixed by throwing money at it. Nobody is saying such products are unnecessary — I can certainly sing you praises about all the nappy rash creams and toys and baby bathtubs that have saved us.
But it’s worth remembering that marketers know what we stay up late worrying about. It’s something to consider before we click “check out now”.
“How Marketers Talk About Motherhood Behind Closed Doors” | The Atlantic