Millenial parents

Non-traditional, honest and ultra-informed, millennial parents are disrupting the way society and brands address families.

For its latest Christmas campaign in 2017, fast food chain McDonald’s decided to target not just one member of the family, but all of them – and all at once. The #ReindeerReady campaign was spread across multiple platforms, and addressed each individual member of the family. A TV spot celebrating fatherhood was made for dads, a digital ‘hub’ complete with a video game targeted kids, and a series of smartphone camera filters were created for digital-savvy parents. By differentiating its content for each member of the family, McDonald’s tapped into a proliferating media trend dubbed ‘separate togetherness’, where parents and children are present in the same room but enjoying completely different content on their respective personal devices.

This is just one of the ways in which the next generation of parents – the millennials – are changing how families function. And with the number of millennial households having reached 16 million in the US alone, according to Pew Research Center, it is giving family-centric brands food for thought.

Beyond new kinds of media behaviours, a new tone of voice is emerging for how brands should address the modern parent. Following the success of movies such as Bad Moms, which forgoes the sandwich-wrapping-housewife-with-perfect-cherubs image of motherhood, brands are now recasting the mother as an imperfect person and avoiding the idyllic image that women struggle to relate to. Maternal care brand Fridababy launched a campaign with the slogan, ‘expecting? When sh%*t gets real, you’ll be ready’, which aims to tackle the confusing advice given to new mothers by friends and family. The advert depicts an expectant mother during her baby shower receiving useless gifts and contradictory advice from overopinionated guests. In the end, the Fridababy team give her the two most useful gifts of all: a gas reliever and a snot sucker. In a similar spirit, retailer Babies’R’Us’ launched a campaign called ‘Be Prepared-ish’, which aimed to reassure new parents about the uncertainty they often feel in their new role. Brutal honesty such as this appeals to millennial mothers, but is often mixed with a dose of wit in order to remain approachable and forgiving. As Carla Hassan, BBDO’s CMO in charge of the Babies’R’Us campaign, recently explained in Adweek magazine: “They want the real, but they also don’t want you to shine a mirror to them because that feels a little hard – that’s why there’s a lot of humour infused in what we’re doing.”

Advertising is also recognising millennial fathers’ greater involvement in family life, with 57% of dads saying that fatherhood is ‘extremely important to their identity’, according to Pew Research Center. ‘Dadvertising’ has bloomed as a result, and often illustrates fathers as loving and funny caregivers – and not as mum’s goofy wingman unable to separate white from coloured laundry. Toy company Mattel’s 2017 campaign for Barbie, which showed dads playing with their daughters, is one example of how brands are celebrating this new fatherly role.

The values of honesty and transparency that typify the thinking of millennial consumers are also extending to their parental purchasing habits. New sustainable business models have emerged, enabling them to buy consciously for their children. An example is Shoey Shoes, which offers a solution to the waste created from children outgrowing their footwear. Once the shoes are too tight for the growing child, parents can send them back to the brand, which will in turn disassemble and re-produce the shoes, replacing any worn parts, eventually turning them into a sellable item again.

Good parenting also comes with its fair share of ethical and safety concerns. While Gen X parents worried that too much television and video games would damage their children’s brain development or cause violent behaviours, millennials parents – in addition to these worries – face privacy concerns associated with their kids’ exposure to social media, and concerns over hackers targeting internet-connected toys. The lack of regulation on Internet of Things devices can expose children to external illegal contact in their own playground, warned a recent report by consumer watchdog Which? The report also discovered a major flaw in the security of a connected toy called the I-Que Intelligent Robot. Anyone who downloaded the toy’s app, and had an associated I-Que-Robot within range, could type a message that was ultimately read aloud by that toy. Acknowledging such safety issues, toy maker Mattel even decided to shelve the launch of its AI device Aristotle due to the alarming amount of data it was found to potentially collect from its child user.

Understanding these new family codes and concerns will be crucial to marketers wishing to capture families from 2018 onwards, with millennial parents now desiring the same ethics, tone of voice, and wider values they demand as individual consumers.

– Margaux Caron