How to Market for the Modern Family

For years advertising and marketing efforts have targeted and embraced the traditional nuclear family – mom, dad, and two or more kids.  As that perception shifts worldwide, however, marketers are racing to keep up with a swiftly shifting demographic as the global perception of the nuclear family evolves.

Mainstream ads from major advertisers now feature multi-racial families, same sex parents, single moms, and stay-at-home dads, a trend that would have been shocking even ten years ago.  The BBC reports that only about 20% of families worldwide now fit the traditional description, with women heading 80% of those families.

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What are some of the trends?

·      Same-sex households.  As both social taboos and legal impediments to same-sex marriage fall around the world, the number of same-sex couples is rising, and many of these couples have children.  Savvy advertisers have recognized this new family configuration.  While there has been backlash in some sectors to these ads, many marketers report that they have gotten more positive feedback than negative.

·      Mixed-race families.  Like the taboos about gay marriage, similar social and legal bans to mixed marriages have fallen by the wayside, and it is now commonplace to see mixed families in ads.  Cheerios broke new ground in 2013 when they featured a black father, white mother, and mixed-race daughter in a commercial.  At the time there was backlash against an ad some people considered shocking, but now this kind of family is commonplace.  Many current ads feature mixed-race families as an accepted norm.

·      Childless households.  Forecasters predict that within two years the average number of children per household will be one, down from roughly two as recently as 1980.  As the number of household children declines, and therefore the number of child-related products that parents might purchase, marketers are targeting a larger pool of prospective shoppers for that one child – grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  There are even terms for these often-childless relatives - - PANKS and PUNKS (Professional Aunt/Uncle – No kids).  These relatives with no children of their own often have expendable cash to lavish on their nieces and nephews.

·      Wives as breadwinners/Stay-at-home dads.  These days, as women outpace men in education, many of them are also out-earning their husbands.  In many of these households, it makes economic sense for dad to stay at home with kids while mom works.  This trend is reflected in many commercials and marketing campaigns.

·      Multi-generational families.  It is a reality of today’s world that, in many families, adult children still live at home, and elderly parents often move in with their own children.  This is often due to economic factors, but is also sometimes related to traditions in such cultures as Asian or Latin, where multi-generational families are the norm.

·      Pets.  These days it is not uncommon for pet owners to think of their cats and dogs as family members.  Some are people who have chosen to remain childless, but still need an outlet for their affections, or someone or something to indulge.  As this trend rises, so do sales of pet items, luxury pet clothes, even headstones and funeral urns.

Smart marketers are closely monitoring all these trends and designing products, campaigns, and ads to reflect and appeal to the new nuclear family.   Here are a few ways these marketers can adjust and adapt the changing marketplace.

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1.     Show diversity!  Single-parent households, interracial families, same sex couples are now a force in the marketing landscape.

2.     Don’t limit your campaigns based on the “traditional” nuclear family.  Not all couples plan to have a child (or more than one).  Don’t assume dad is the breadwinner.  And don’t stereotype the dads who do choose to stay home.  Mr. Mom is out, and dads who can competently manage children and households are in.

3.     Be inventive and flexible.  Tailor your services and products to different needs, e.g. a family travel package for a family with one child.

4.     Embrace pets.  Broaden your product list to include people who genuinely consider their pets to be family members.

5.     Recognize that a family’s goals, priorities, and economic realities have evolved.  Think about products and marketing messages for those products that might help a multi-generational family achieve privacy or flexibility.