Mothercare, the U.K.'s biggest baby-products retailer, recognized that maternal desire to interact and has launched a social-networking site for parents dubbed Gurgle -- a riff on the name of the world's leading search engine.
Websites for moms are nothing new, of course; 750,000 babies a year are born in the U.K., which makes for a lot of anxious new parents searching for solutions online. In the U.K., Mumsnet is the biggest home-grown offering, while Babycenter, based in the U.S. and owned by Johnson & Johnson, attracts the most users. Both sites were founded in 2000 and have busy message boards but are upgrading to create fuller social-networking environments.
Back to the mothership
Gurgle launched late last month without any advertising support but confirmed that Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Jeep and Nutricia baby foods are lined up to advertise on the site. However, the main purpose of Gurgle is to enhance the Mothercare brand and drive traffic to its website. Mothercare in the past has spent money trying to turn Mothercare.com into a meeting place for parents.
"Gurgle leverages the expertise and authority of our brand and, combined with innovative online marketing opportunities, enables us to reach a broader spectrum of customers," said Mothercare CEO Ben Gordon. "As the site links to Mothercare.com, it also offers us the opportunity to engage with existing customers via a new forum, as well as reach parents who otherwise would not be exposed to Mothercare."
Babycenter, which claims 650,000 monthly U.K. users, is heavily backed by Johnson & Johnson brands but also carries ads for Hipp Organic baby foods, John Lewis department stores and Calpol baby medicine. The company recently acquired Maya's Mom, a social-networking site, and is busy integrating the facility into its 10 sites around the world.
"The message boards drive one-third to a half of our page views," said Jon Stross, general manager-international. "We have an engaged audience who see us as a sanctuary and a trusted place. Some of our mums have been friends since we launched and know each other in the real world but still choose to communicate via our message boards."
Mumsnet is different from Gurgle and Babycenter in that it was founded by two women who met at antenatal classes. Although it has no ties to big business, the site counts P&G and Unilever among its advertisers, as well as a raft of British and mostly upmarket brands. Two years ago Mumsnet joined up with Mothercare in a joint-publishing venture, but the magazine the companies produced was short-lived.
"Online advertising has increased massively since we launched," said Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts. "At the beginning our advertising was very sporadic, but now most big companies dedicate a fair percentage of their ad budgets to online. It's taken us time to get it right: We started charging $50 per 1,000 page views, then it went down to $4, and now it's up to about $20."
Mumsnet is focused on serving its target: educated women for whom kids are important but not the only focus of their lives. Message boards are full of chat about politics and books, while their online live chats have drawn politicians, journalists and fashion gurus in addition to the usual child-care experts.
"Advertisers recognize that online mums are important to reach. It's an audience of intelligent women who also happen to be parents, and they can all be found in one place," Ms. Roberts said. "You can reach the same number of people by advertising in The Guardian, but the audience isn't nearly so targeted."