Oh, Mother!

Marketers Struggle to Categorize an Increasingly Complex Demo

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Marketers in search of a few good women to spread the word about their products are finding themselves smack dab in the middle of the Mommy Wars.
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Photo: Mel Yates

Sprint Nextel, Nintendo and General Motors Corp. all have been clamoring to reach the high-income, highly influential potential product advocator touted as the Alpha Mom. But now a backlash has begun in the form of the Beta Mom, the self-proclaimed antithesis of the superachieving Alpha. And, if that wasn't bad enough, probability suggests that accounting for all types of moms could take us all the way to Omega.

Maria Bailey, CEO of mom-marketing firm BSM Media and author of "Trillion-Dollar Moms: Marketing to a New Generation of Mothers," counts more than 50 subsegments of moms (with some overlap; for example, home-schooling moms tend also to be Christian moms). And Ms. Bailey said most moms are quick to disassociate themselves with the Alpha Mom mantle in favor of more realistic portrayals.

Collapsing mom differences
Isabel Kallman, CEO of Alpha Mom, the mom-media company that coined the now somewhat incendiary moniker in 2005, dismissed the idea of mommy divisiveness as media hype. That's no surprise: In March, her Alpha Mom was touted in USA Today as marketing gold, only to be debunked in early May by a story in the same publication on Beta Moms.

Ms. Kallman, who has become a fixture on "Good Morning America" and in New York magazine, said her website (AlphaMom.com) and cable TV content she has created for Cox and Comcast are about reaching "all moms who want to do the best for their families." They are 18 to 39 with household incomes above $75,000; 81% log on to the internet for advice. And that will certainly be her mantra as she looks to close deals with multinational marketers on the hook to sponsor her content (and reach the more than 175,000 women who sign on monthly to the site) for '08.

What Ms. Kallman has somewhat unwittingly created, however, is a cottage industry for mom marketers. Kristi Bridges, creative director of Sawtooth Group, is using the much-talked-about Alpha Mom term to help clients including spice marketer McCormick & Co. try to reach the modern more-time-for-herself mom. As Ms. Bridges sees it, Alphas have made it OK to come out and say they want to make themselves happy first and by doing so be a better wife and mother. That concept opens up media opportunities to reach mom, beyond the typical Seven Sisters publications, to spa and travel magazines, cooking shows, and, of course, the internet. But even Ms. Bridges acknowledges that Alpha Mom, like Soccer Mom before her, is probably a limited-time term and that, in reality, "somewhere in the middle between Alpha and Beta is where most moms are."

Getting in bed with the Alphas
Such a truth has not stopped companies such as Sprint from trying to get in bed with Alpha Moms. In a recent Mother's Day pitch to elicit publicity for its wireless and online offerings, Sprint dropped the A-bomb no fewer than seven times (mostly in bolded headlines). While Sprint addresses that "the term 'Alpha Mom' may not apply to every mother in America," it goes on to offer that "the challenges are the same -- to be the 'always on' multitasker, devoted to raising her children and seeking the best resources to help her do it."
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Photo: James Schnepf

Such obvious we-get-you blather exactly spells out the problem many women have with being a so-called Alpha Mom, Ms. Bailey said, which is that "that they don't want to be pushovers for marketers to influence." And that, she says, is exactly what the term has come to imply.

How, then, should marketers navigate the minefield that is mommy marketing? Nintendo used Alpha Moms to help spread the word about its Wii gaming console, holding events for "trendsetting" moms in eight cities to take advantage of their social connectedness. GM reached out to the Type A's for its Cadillac division, primarily the Escalade, with its Alpha Mom-targeted website, MyCadillacStory.com.

Targeting life stages
One suggestion Ms. Bailey makes in her book is to wage life-stage-based marketing. Kara Forney is offering advertisers of her expanding local pregnancy guides, "The Bump," just that.

Citing data that show 4 million babies are born a year and an average of 16,000 pregnant women enter the market every day, Bump CEO Ms. Forney plans to expand to a total of 12 cities by year's end. Her expecting mothers may not have determined whether they are Alpha or Beta yet, but they are looking for where to buy baby gear, electronics, etc. in their local market -- especially after seeing abstract articles and ads in national parenting pubs.

The digest-size annual guide is partnering with Starwood's Westin Hotels & Resorts and high-end maternity retailer BabyStyle for a "babymoon" event in Phoenix, promoting the growing concept of taking a last vacation getaway before having a baby. And, catering to cravings, The Bump is partnering with Carvel to hold a contest for a Bump ice-cream flavor.
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