On Mothers’ Day, in the words of Kylie and Robbie, the kids are all right.

A rant about how brands misfire in their attempts to engage mums – and what they can learn from our little people.

Mums had their special day in the UK a couple of months ago, but last weekend saw pretty much the rest of the world celebrate Mothers’ Day – meaning a second opportunity for my social feeds to be monopolised by well-meaning brands jumping on the motherlovin’ bandwagon. 

After all, it’s good for business.  Love means consideration, loyalty and advocacy.  And seeing as mums are responsible for around 80% of household spending decisions, 60% of new car purchases, 80% of healthcare purchases and 90% of food spending, that’s a lot of cash up for grabs.  Yet it’s astonishing that brands continue to get it wrong.

I’m like a bit of a scratched record quoting the 2014 Saatchi & Saatchi stat that only one in five mums believe there are any examples of mums in advertising they can relate to.  And just last month, our own H+K-sponsored annual survey of the BritMums blogger community echoed that point – nearly a quarter told us that a lot of marketing by brands that target “mums like them” is not relevant or effective.  A similar proportion said their blog is better at talking to parents than a lot of brand marketing.  (To download the full “Mumfluence” survey findings go to: http://hillandknowlton.co.uk/latest/comment-and-opinion/britmums-survey.aspx)

For me the brand communications equivalent of hastily-purchased petrol station chrysanthemums is the lazy social media post that crudely attempts to hijack our special day – or indeed gatecrash the zeitgeist or calendar events the rest of the year.  Trust me Brand Managers, there is no sense of gratification and reward that comes from your icon or ambassador wishing me a Happy Mothers’ Day in a jolly Facebook post.  Or worst still, telling me I’m amazing.  Cheers for the sentiment, but if my boy tells me I’m doing a sh*t job because I prioritised a new business meeting over his star turn as a Viking in his Class Assembly, I’m perfectly clear on where I stand on the “you’re doing great!” front.

Then there’s the survey story that sympathetically quantifies my hopes and worries, the tensions between professional and family life, how much we’d get paid if the “job” of motherhood came with a salary, or any other piece of data that is a lame attempt to "show you understand me".  Holding the mirror up to my life (or some approximation of it based on a poll of 1,000 women) doesn’t make me feel loved, or make me want to buy your products any more or any less. 

Nothing says I love you like some handy household tips, right?  Wrong.  So please don’t try and engage me in a conversation about stuff I either outsource or choose to ignore until it becomes a health and safety issue.  I’m actually embarrassed by the chaotic domestic reality that lies behind the fragile veneer of “having it all”.   I honestly have no advice worth dishing up to other women about getting the balance right.  And I give a figurative middle finger to any brand that clogs up my newsfeed with unsolicited wisdom on how to make my life run smoothly either. 

And while we’re working through the Marketing Badly to Mums list, honourable mentions ought to go to any communications that features the following:  kids knowingly ganging up against their parents (that’s standard), the fella portrayed as a bumbling, useless oaf (ditto, but it’s only ME that is allowed to point that out), women smiling while doing housework (this never happens, ever), pets that gratefully dance at your feet as they get fed (mine inhales his malodorous doggy dinner then spitefully farts at me all night).  Or any household where the furnishings are white and the mum looks 20 years old and permanently up for it.  Oh and I’m still waiting for the tampon ad that bravely acknowledges I will want to kill my other half just for breathing too noisily, five days of every month.  Brands, how can your love and thanks feel authentic when you don’t even get me? 

So what can we do to fix this?  Obviously, brands and agencies need to get more mums working on their business.  Personally speaking, a little bit of first-hand insight can go a long way – if not afford you guru sage-like status in the eyes of a childless 27 year old brand manager. 

But it’s also occurred to me that some sensible lessons in Marketing to Mums can be found surprisingly close to home.  Brands could certainly learn a thing or two from the little people about how to bring a touch of Mothering Sunday magic to mums’ lives every day.    

Starting with the Mothers’ Day staple - the handmade confections of sellotape, sparkles and snot that earn their place forever in a mum’s keepsake box.  Personal and charming, they capture a moment in time of your kids’ imagination and sticking-skills and mean more than any shop-bought polished token of love.   How could your brand deliver a reward that is hyper-personalised and well-meaning without Hollywood production values?  

As much as I loved the hand-made efforts, I also used Mothers’ Day as an opportunity to drop some big hints about the new headphones I needed.  Which is a potent reminder that mums do sometimes just want STUFF.  We love to get it.  We love to talk about it.  We coo appreciatively at other mums’ bounty.  So send out free stuff as much as you can, then, it’s an utter no brainer.  Make it land at a time when it will be most meaningful – if it’s going to help me be more efficient, that means serve up something great when I’m at my busiest and most time starved.  And if you want me talk to my pals about you, give me something good to say.  Of course, the product experience itself should be flawless and delightful, but think about the “so what” I’d be keen to share, especially if it gives me some bragging rights because I was clever enough to get it before anybody else.  

Mothers’ Day is also about giving frazzled mamas a 24hr reprieve from some of the heavy lifting:  breakfast in bed, a restaurant lunch, a day away from the laundry.  They’re not spectacular gestures by any means, but it’s about DOING something, not just talking about it.   And it’s enormously appreciated (if not a little bit expected).  I’m tired of hearing about brand storytelling, I’m all for a bit more brand act-doing instead, please.  So think about how your brand could surprise and delight your mum customers with something that makes a genuine physical impact on her day.  

Think about the less obvious, left-field acts of love too.  The first time my brother was let loose in Boots with his own pocket money for Mothers’ Day, our mum was the lucky recipient of a Batman sponge.  It wasn’t something she wanted or needed, but we still talk about that well-intended piece of bath-time tat nearly 40 years on.  Go on, make a new memory with something surprising and unexpected that might not be directly linked to the functional benefit of your product or who you are at all.   

There’s so much that brands could do better to make mums feel cherished, valued and loved – it really all starts with simple thoughtfulness.  But as I reflect on what made my Mothers’ Day magical a few weeks ago, I realise that it’s only when my two kids tell me “thank you, you’re the best” that it really means anything at all.  I’m not your brand’s mum, so why should you think it’s your place to show appreciation of my efforts?  

So here’s an idea.  Brands just need to try harder 364 days of the year with better stuff that lives up to its promises, tackles an unmet need, doesn’t make us feel like our pockets have been picked and makes life flow a little bit better.  And next Mother’s Day, I invite brands to take a well-earned day off and just let the kids do all the hard work to make her day feel special.  All it takes is genuine love, a few words of thanks and a novelty sponge.

Claire Candler

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search