Mother's Work Is Never Done

By Published on .

A Leo Burnett unit has identified four types of mothers, and many more ways to market to them.

Until recently, most marketers conveniently assumed that all moms were reachable with a one-size-fits-all message. After all, how different can mothers be? Aren't they all concerned with the same things - the health and well-being of their children? But consumer research is finally catching up with this relatively under-studied segment of the population. A recent study by LeoShe, Leo Burnett's unit focusing on marketing to women, has found that there are, in fact, many different types of moms out there who approach their parenting duties in distinctly different ways. The implications for marketers? They must tailor different messages to different types of moms.

The authors of LeoShe's new report, "Multiple Moms: Four Strategies," have identified four mother types, differentiated by major drivers, such as the degree to which they seek self-fulfillment and how involved their husbands are in the parenting process. Age, surprisingly, is not among the most important factors that define who a mother is or how she behaves as a consumer. "Mothering strategies are a mind-set rather than a demographic phenomenon," says Denise Fedewa, a vice president and planning director at Leo Burnett, who recently spoke before a packed session at the annual American Association of Advertising Agencies account planning conference in San Diego. Even so, LeoShe's report indicates that some demographic patterns do emerge.

Researchers interviewed more than 400 mothers ages 18 to 49, both over the phone and during more intimate "coffee" meetings, and identified four distinct segments: "June Cleaver: the Sequel" types are women who believe in the traditional roles of stay-at-home moms and bread-winner dads. These women tend to be mostly white, highly educated, and from upscale backgrounds. Slightly more than half of them, in fact, stay at home full-time to care for their families, compared to the national average of 30 percent.

"Tug-of-War" mothers, on the other hand, share some of the same traditional notions of motherhood, but are forced to work - and they aren't happy about that. These moms, 79 percent of whom work outside the home, are full of angst and anxiety, according to the LeoShe planners.

The last two groups are emerging segments. The "Strong Shoulders," more than a third of whom are single mothers, have a positive view of their lives, despite their lower income levels and little support from their children's dads. Thirty-four percent of these women are between 18 and 24 years old.

And "Mothers of Invention" are women who enjoy motherhood, work outside the home, and have help with their child-rearing responsibilities from helpful husbands. Unlike the Tug-of-Wars, this group - a mix of Gen Xers and Boomers - has developed new and creative ways to balance career with a happy home life.

What are marketers to do with this information? For one thing, Fedewa warns against dismissing the June Cleaver types as passe. Traditional, stay-at-home moms are going strong, Fedewa says, a fact that helps explain the highly polarized responses to AT&T's "Day At The Beach" advertisement, which features a career woman who decides to take her her children (and her cell phone) to the beach. Some mothers loved the ad, and identified with the mother's career/family conflict. Other mothers were put off by the family depicted in the spot.

Fedewa says that only after doing their mothering study did she and her colleagues understand why: The June Cleavers, for example, criticized the mother for not tidying up her messy house, and some Tug of Wars also thought she wasn't being a great mother. Fedewa and her staff concluded that responses to the ad varied markedly because the four types of moms identified by LeoShe have very different styles andattitudes about their approach to motherhood.

Fedewa suggests that marketers need to fine-tune their mom messages if they expect to target their products more accurately. Companies with a large number of brands in their portfolio may want to create different ads for different segments, Fedewa says. Time-strapped Tug-of-War moms are the most brand conscious, for example, because recognizable products make their shopping decisions easier. Marketers courting these consumers would do well to tout their brands' values.

New brands, on the other hand, or brands in trouble, can benefit from tapping into the two emerging segments identified by LeoShe. Strong Shoulders would be better reached via more inspirational television shows, for instance, while the Web is a more appropriate medium for targeting the less-conventional Mothers of Invention.

Fedewa says that her agency is now in the process of applying the insights from their mothering study to help clients such as Pillsbury and Kellogg develop more effective marketing strategies.

Without giving away specifics, Fedewa says that Procter & Gamble is now looking at ways to rethink its detergent portfolio, for example, guided by the multi-mom scenarios developed by LeoShe. In fact, P&G has recently commissioned its own motherhood study, industry insiders say, and has come up with no less than six different types of mothers, each of whom, presumably, has a different set of needs and attitudes about things like doing the laundry, cleaning the house, and looking after their children.

Other industry experts say LeoShe is right on target. Anne Marshall, co-founder of WomanTrend, a Washington, D.C.-based market research and consulting firm, says that studies like "Multiple Moms" prove the disconnect between advertiser perception of women and women's real values and attitudes.

"Advertisers use the same lingo [for all moms], which doesn't resonate with today's women and mothers," Marshall says. Ad copy, for example, is a critical part of making a connection with today's busy woman.

Understanding millennium vocabulary, Marshall, adds, will help keep marketers in tune with women's needs. "Juggling is a completely old concept," she says. "My mother juggled. I'm choosing."

Caroline Gibbons Barry, president of PortiCo Research, a qualitative market research and ethnography company in New York City, says that her research also shows how complex the mother segment is. "Advertisers almost have to pick their battles" and target different segments at a time, rather than trying to address everyone, Gibbons Barry says.

She adds that, in her experience, she has found that lifestyles are what bring people together. But it is also possible, she adds, that changes in lifestyles can result in changes in attitude over a lifetime: "If you're a June Cleaver mom now, are you always going be June Cleaver?"

In this article:
Most Popular