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Cultural Conversation Series; We are Family


The nuclear parent trap: 54% of Aussies say brands failing to reflect modern families, pushing traditional mum, dad, 1.8 kids over reality; Maltesers, Target nailing it

The marketing and advertising sector is alienating a quarter of Aussies by primarily showing traditional – mum, dad and two children – families, new research shared by Nine shows. One in four people feel their family is poorly represented, and even though single parents make up 10 per cent of our population, only 12 per cent of the public recognise one adult and a child as a family. What brands should focus on is honesty, realism and rawness, Nine’s Toby Boon says.

The Australian family

Marketers are using an outdated model of the Australian family in advertising, sticking with a mum, dad and two kids, and alienating vast swathes of the public, new research from Nine and cultural insights agency Fiftyfive5 reveals.

More than half of Australians – 54 per cent – feel that brands are failing to reflect the reality of family life in their marketing, while one in four people believe their own family is poorly represented in advertising. The concept of mum, dad and 1.8 kids has been “a really, really powerful shortcut”, Nine’s Director of Strategy and Insights, Toby Boon, told a session of Powered by Nine’s Big Ideas Store.

“But the reality is that Australia is shifting.  We’re quite conservative in the way that we portray family groups in some ways. There are big changes in the ways that families are showing up,” he said. 

Realism required

Families make up 71 per cent of households, but they’re comprised of traditional families, same-sex families, unmarried couples, blended families, co-habiting parent families and grandparent families. Dr Klara De Wit, Fiftyfive5 consultant, said portraying different types of families was an important way to improve representation and public perceptions.

“There was quite a sad percentage where only 12 per cent of people recognise one adult and a child as a family, but in reality, single parents make up 10 per cent of Australia's population,” Dr De Wit said.  

“What Australian consumers love to see when it comes to families and parenting is realism and acknowledgement of what it means to be an Australian family today, and the difficulties and the hardships of that as well.”

Maltesers, Target get it right

The Massive Overshare campaign by Maltesers, which published intimate thoughts from mothers about motherhood, was one example that resonated, as did a Target ad that showed men and women doing chores with children around in a non-congratulatory way.

“It wasn’t necessarily about family life. It wasn’t necessarily talking overtly to a mother’s experience or a father’s experience, it was just showing a family home,” Dr De Wit said.  

“There was a dad vacuuming with a baby strapped to his chest, and they loved it because there was no glorifying and ‘Oh, wow, you’re doing such a great job.’ Or, ‘Oh, look at the dad. He’s babysitting his kids.’ It was just assumed to be normal.”

Almost nine in 10 mums (89 per cent) want brands to show more honesty about the challenges of family life.

But it's a tightrope for brands

There is a tightrope to walk, however. The research found that 46 per cent of Australians want brands to represent traditional family dynamics.

“There was a really interesting piece that came through in the research that compared the amount of time dads spent with their kids per day to the 1960s,” Boon said. “I can't remember at the top of my head what the number is today, but I know the average amount of time that fathers spent with their children in the ’60s was something like 16 minutes a day. Anything’s got to be an improvement on that.” 

The answer, according to Boon, is to listen to the audience and understand their purchase cycle and habits.

“One of the really interesting developments for me has been around the involvement of grandparents,” he said. “We know from research we’ve done previously that obviously older Australians are active for longer, are working for longer, are more involved for longer. And grandparents are one of these groups that are now super, super-actively involved in helping to support bringing up children.”

Which is why the smart brands are now reflecting grandparents in their family-focused campaigns – and recognising their influence on big-ticket purchases. Explore

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