How brands are supporting moms and dads through the pandemic
Over the past several months, the pandemic has added to the roller coaster of parenthood an extra set of corkscrews, demon drops and loop-de-loops. All the while, marketers have been there for the ride, trying to address Mom and Dad’s woes in a variety of ways, playing to their emotional ups and downs, acting as a “wing man” (with the help of new initiatives, services or products) or by simply reminding them of their lives outside their multitasking hamster wheel.
And now, as schools start back up around the country with some families jumping back into virtual schooling while others juggle “hybrid” setups combining in-person instruction and at-home learning, there’s more opportunity for brands to address parental struggles in fresh ways (that also might even give parents a bit of relief).
This past Friday, for example, Kraft Heinz’s Capri Sun debuted a new campaign from agency Mischief, creative veteran Greg Hahn’s co-venture with Canadian shop No Fixed Address. The effort, which pranks kids with Capri Sun pouches filled with filtered H20, promotes the drink brand’s pro bono efforts in which the brand is providing school children in the Chicagoland area free drinking water in the brand’s iconic packaging.
The whole initiative was meant to try to help check off at least one of the endless list of worries these parents face as they’re going back to school, as water fountains would likely be off limits. “It’s very much an act for the parents, to take their minds off one more thing they have to worry about,” Hahn says.
The company’s Kraft Mac & Cheese brand also recently gave parents a “seal of approval” for what’s probably become a go-to hack in many busy households who have thrown traditional mealtime planning out the window: it rebranded the offering an “acceptable” breakfast food—with new packaging and all.
Agency Terri & Sandy has a number of packaged good clients on its rosters, including Gerber, Applegate, Twinings and Carr's, as well as probiotics brand Culturelle. Parents are the target audience for such brands, and since the coronavirus took hold in the U.S., the agency has been doing a deep dive into how it has been “reshaping” parenting, says Tracy Chapman, the agency's director of strategic planning.
Terri & Sandy put out a white paper examining the effects of the pandemic and found a few key themes. “Some of our clients are packaged goods clients, and their goods have been flying off the shelves, but we wanted to make sure they continued to create a strong brand connection with consumers,” she says.
One theme that emerged in the agency’s study was “an embracing of imperfections. We’d already been seeing that as a trend with more authentic portrayals in marketing, but as we’re having to live through the [pandemic] every single day, rules were being even more relaxed, there was more permissiveness that impacted parents’ choices.”
Such a theme is evident in the Mac & Cheese idea, as well as Terri & Sandy’s recent campaign for BJ’s Wholesale Club. The agency enlisted photographer Todd Selby, aka “The Selby,” to capture the chaos of eating and meal prep in his own family life, which involved everything from screaming kids, dropped eggs and potentially spoiled milk. The point was to highlight the retailer’s family-size packs and delivery services, meant to make life a little more convenient for such real-world mishaps.
Another theme Chapman says has emerged is parents embracing a new sense of appreciation. “While there may be chaos, people were enjoying reconnecting with families and sheltering in place,” she says.
Back in May, for example, Microsoft released a lighthearted Mother’s Day ad that celebrated moms with various videoconferencing scenes showing women steering meetings while also hugging their little ones, playing hair salon or even being dragged away from the screen altogether. Another ad for German grocery store Penny served as a reminder to parents that the sheltered situations that in one sense might feel like “entrapment” could actually be an “enchanting” universe for their families.
Brands might also do well by acknowledging the person behind the parent. Dole, for example, gave parents an alternative to using their potty mouths with the help of its fruit bowls, while sandwich chain Potbelly turned its parking lots into safe zones for parents who just wanted to be able to eat their lunch in peace, away from little ones calling their names every two seconds.
Agency Joan Creative also recently debuted a humorous brand campaign for Virgin Hotels encouraging moms and dads to get some much-needed “me time,” where parents could “rediscover what they liked about each other behind the privacy door” and "wake up to breakfast that neither of you had to make.”
According to Jaime Robinson, co-founder and chief creative officer of Joan Creative, the original idea for the campaign “had nothing at all to do with COVID, or parents needing to have sex again, or run away and escape their children,” she says. But “everybody’s life has been upended by this thing in so many ways, it felt crazy not to address it, especially since Virgin Hotels could provide relief.” In the case of Virgin, that doesn’t just mean providing a getaway, “that could mean making people laugh because we all need a bit of stress relief,” Robinson says.
The Virgin campaign was inspired by conversations the agency was seeing on social media, with spouses wondering why they married each other or parents venting about going nuts managing the kids. Chapman says it’s crucial that even though you may be addressing a pandemic-addled audience, it’s important your message be grounded in real human insight because that’s what ultimately will give it legs. Such is evident in the agency’s recent work for Culturelle, which isn’t obviously set in a lockdown world, but speaks directly to parents’ concerns about their little ones' immunity, showing scenes of a girl hiding out in a fly-infested trash can or a baby chewing on a dog toy.
“Life is not an exact science and rules change every single day,” Chapman says. “There’s definitely anxiety behind that. We leaned into that in a way that parents would relate to.
“One of the benefits of having marketing messages grounded in a real insight—not a COVID insight—is that it allows for that marketing message to live post-pandemic, especially in today’s economic climate where we have to think about how we can stretch our marketing dollars,” she says.
Ultimately, it’s all about balance, Robinson says. “If you strike the right balance, you can almost help people feel lucky to be a parent at this time—the time when the world went nuts, but we had each other. I think parents secretly love a little of this craziness, because it reminds us of those first weeks and months right after our kids were born, when they relied on us for everything and nothing was normal. Not-normal can be a great gift.”