LONDON: Marketers need to urgently reassess their views of the family unit, which has become more complex and diverse as marriage declines, divorce rates rise, people become parents later and have fewer children.

In a Warc Best Practice paper, How to market effectively to parents and families, Hanna Chalmers, a Senior Qualitative Director at Ipsos MORI in London, defines parents and families as mum and/or dad/or primary carer living in a household with children under 24.

But the demographic and attitudinal shifts that are occurring in many markets, aided by education and the internet, mean that marketers need to adapt advertising and communication strategies accordingly.

"Depictions of family life that are constructed along clearly defined, traditional gendered roles are outmoded and no longer reflect most people's experiences," Chalmers states.

Apart from a handful of notable exceptions, advertising in general has yet to catch up with how family life has evolved, especially in regard to how many fathers now see themselves.

She identifies four ways in which brands can engage modern parents and families, perhaps the most obvious one being to ditch any "universal" notion of family structure. "The idea of a traditional 'template' for marketing communications for families and parents is at odds with the size, complexity and diversity of them."

That variety actually offers a path for marketers, who can tap into the many pressures modern parents feel, from self-doubt to information overload. 

"Help them feel more confident about the choices they are making," Chalmers advises. "Help curate all that choice in a way that is meaningful to different kinds of family forms."

One useful way to do that is via social media influencers. "Brands can learn a lot from the popularity of Instagram parent pages," she says. "They are a useful way of understanding what is engaging and connecting with parents."

Her final point is that brands should have a point of view if they want to get attention – it's far better to reflect accurately the life of one particular type of family rather than resort to a generic portrayal which doesn't appeal to or engage anyone.

In that regard, the winner of the Warc Prize for Asian Strategy is a standout example, Chalmers suggested. Ariel's Share the load campaign was notable for tackling deep-rooted cultural views that put Indian women in charge of household duties.

Data sourced from Warc