While the depiction of parenthood in advertising has greatly improved in representation, it can still easily to fall into stereotypes. Sophy Vanner Critoph, Head of Strategy, Culture + Comms at Amplify, weighs in on the balancing act of authentically expressing modern family structures.
How has the depiction of parenthood in advertising evolved?
Through the last 70 years of traditional advertising, the depiction of parenthood has evolved from seeing only one kind of parent - the stay-at-home mother providing a perfect service to her family as the primary caregiver - to an era of imperfections and more relatable realities - and now more inclusive representation delivering diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and circumstance.
However, in more traditional media spaces, brands are still guilty of being led by generalised stereotypes rather than expressing the important color and depth of modern family structures. It is undoubtedly progress to see more diverse pictorial representation, but it still feels like a tick box exercise when ads show something other than a white, 2-parent, heterosexual household. We’re stuck in an era of overt representation.
How are agencies and brands adapting ad comms to inclusivity around parenting?
There are lots of brands positively moving the dial on parent representation, from supermarket icons like Sainsbury’s Tu, to sportswear heroes like Nike, but a brand I’ve noticed shifting the very traditional, parent-targeted category is Bugaboo, who authentically diversify representation through their ads, their ambassadors, and down to their online blog.
Where advertising has most successfully adapted comms to be more inclusive, is when the insight brought to life is a true revelation, when we mix demographics with psychographics and reveal something incredibly penetrating and relatable. As a brand focused on families, John Lewis has a catalogue of greatest hits, including this recent ad honoring the perspective of a Dad - yes, a white, middle class guy, living a very privileged life - but it was refreshing and tear-jerking to see those moments through different eyes. A small step in the right direction, hopefully pathing the way for the representation of different realities.
What are some areas regarding parenthood that you feel could use more visibility in advertising?
As well as considering overt, visual representation, we should be considering the deep complexities of family units - biological, chosen or situational - and the individual experiences that make it such a rich space for authentic storytelling. While it was scrutinised for showing an idealistic version of fostering, I liked that John Lewis used their highly-anticipated Christmas ad space last year, to truly bring their new brand line to life and focus on Action for Children. It’s a brilliant example of how brands can balance the importance placed on other parental figures in their messaging, making space for carers, guardians and parents of all varieties.
One campaign that really showed up in every area of my world, was Tommee Tippee #TheBoobLife, an ad and a whole host of resources that talked transparently about the complexities of breastfeeding. It sparked conversations online, in mainstream media and in general conversation with friends, showing that brands that think beyond an ad spot, can achieve impact and advocacy long term.
Legal guardians can play a significant role in the lives of children who are no longer with their birth parents. How can brands balance the importance placed on these other parental figures in their messaging?
Led by agencies who understand the power of social media, we’re seeing the depiction of parenthood evolve. Tuning into the social movements that public figures, communities and influencers are leading on important topics, will in turn help brands deliver meaningful products, services and communications. Topics such as fertility, childcare, women’s health, and flexible working are finally breaking out of the social space and into mainstream media. This is a community with an abundance of insight to share, as long as you look in the right places. It’s a group who are always looking for extra support in their journey - the space for brands is vast.
And like every other subgroup or target audience we want to speak to and connect with, we need to remember that while we can’t resonate with every person in every moment, we can make sure people don’t feel excluded, and we can build a world of moments for different kinds of parents and people to resonate with.