Heather MacFadyen shuffles sleepily into the kitchen of her home in Dallas. With a spatula in one hand and one of her four boys on her hip, she logs on to her computer, where a link catches her attention.
She clicks and an ad comes onto the screen, showing images of three mothers engaged in the daily tasks of raising children. The ad follows those children on their journeys to become Olympians. The words, "Thank you, mom" flash across the screen and MacFadyen brushes aside an involuntary tear, identifying deeply with the ad. Logos flash across the screen, closing with "P&G, proud sponsor of moms."
A new movement of media-savvy, financially affluent moms is rising, companies believe. Women control $3.3 trillion in consumer spending in the U.S. — a figure that is expected to grow to a staggering $28 trillion in the next several years, according to the AIO Group, a marketing agency. As brands shift their focus and target mothers, their influence provides both opportunities and potential pitfalls.
"We know a lot about moms," P&G External Relations manager Glenn Williams wrote in an email to the Deseret News. "And we think moms often don't get the thanks they deserve. Moms will always be an important target for us."
What are brands doing?
Eighty-four percent of mothers globally find planning family activities to be worthwhile as long as a special moment is involved, Yahoo and Starcom MediaVest Group found in a study presented to leading brand executives — including Kraft, P&G, Coca Cola and Samsung — at the 2012 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France.
"Brands have understood that moments are important to moms for many years," said Adam Kruse, VP, Global Director, SMG. And moms are looking for help in creating such important moments.
Kraft launched a big fork, little fork campaign, which encourages children to become involved in meal preparation. Coca-Cola partnered with programs like Recyclebank, The World Wildlife Fund, HealthyWeight.net and Triple Play to teach children about exercise, nutrition and social techniques they hope will improve behaviors at home.
The biggest campaign in the history of the company's 175-year operation and perhaps the most far-reaching of campaigns during this year's Olympic games, P&G has launched a global Thank You Mom campaign as part of a "long-term repositioning." Since it's release in April, P&G's Best Job ad — a thank you to mothers — has gone viral, with more than 2.5 million views on Youtube and more than 700,000 likes on Facebook.
"When it comes to Olympic athletes, we also think that behind almost every amazing athlete is an equally amazing mom. She deserves to be thanked and recognized. That's what this Olympic campaign is about," said Glenn Williams, press relations manager of the campaign. P&G has committed to raise $5 million through a portion of sales and donations to support local youth sports programs worldwide.
The millennial mother
It wasn't until nearly the turn of the century that companies really started singling out the mom segment, said Terri Thompson, author of "Tuning into Mom," a book examining the purchasing habits of mothers. Companies have gradually come to understand the role of mothers in household decision-making, as well as the financial impact that mothers have on the economy.
Women will control two-thirds of consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade, making them the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in the nation's history. Estimates range from $12 trillion to $40 trillion, according to Senior Partner and Director of New Business Development Claire Behar.
There are many factors contributing to this changing model of all that a mother is and does and the ways brands are targeting her, Thompson told the Deseret News. More and more women have played roles in the home and in the workplace, and companies are becoming more savvy about reaching them on both levels.
This generation of marketers is presenting women as powerful, more confident decision-makers who are involved in just as many interesting situations as men are, Thompson said. "Though there is always room for improvement, brands have made long strides."
Amber Koter-Puline, mother of two boys under the age of 6 and facilitator of the only postpartum depression support group in Atlanta, advises mothers to be conscious about the way they interpret branding.
There is so much excitement and anticipation that pregnancy or waiting to adopt provides, Koter-Puline told the Deseret News. There are months and months of time for mothers to build up expectations. Commercialization encourages a cultural tradition that surrounds this buildup, which involves women gifting mothers with products in baby showers and mothers nesting and purchasing items for their babies.
The items themselves aren't the problem, Koter-Puline said. It is the branding of those products — the way that mothers are presented. "It leads to very unrealistic expectations of what new motherhood might be like."
As a survivor of postpartum depression after the birth of her first child, Koter-Puline remembers the feelings of inadequacy, guilt and loneliness associated with motherhood. "Must we exacerbate this cycle by allowing companies to drive the bus when it comes to how we visualize new moms in our society?" Koter-Puline asked on her blog, beyondpostpartumblog.com.
"I very much believe in self-acceptance and appreciation of our own situation and not comparing it to other people, whether they're real or whether they're in commercials or on television," Koter-Puline said.
For MacFadyen, commercials that tug at her heartstrings don't alter her personal purchases. "Moms are brand loyal. Dollars are tight. Time is limited. When we find something that works (or it worked for a trusted friend) we will buy it."
Back in Dallas, MacFadyen, the mother of four boys, said she appreciated the positive imaging of stay-at-home moms in the P&G commercial. "Recognizing the mundane tasks involved in raising moral, ethical, successful adults and giving them value encouraged this weary mom's heart."
In a way, MacFadyen hopes P&G impacts our society as a whole by directing the world's attention to the unsung heroes in the Olympic games: the women behind the champions. "For me it also made me think through my ultimate goal for my kiddos. Is it to be an Olympic champion? Or a spiritual champion?"
Thompson agreed that the relationship between brands and mothers is a mutual one. The better brands know that the better they serve a consumer, the more apt they are to gain loyalty, Thompson said. "They are interested in giving back and understand the notion of all boats rising."
Many brands are spending time researching the needs of mothers, Thompson said. McDonalds has held a dedicated mom panel that reviewed food selections and offered recommendations. In response, an array of menu selections of wholesome food was added to meet the demand.
After watching the P&G commercial, MacFadyen was empowered by a reminder that her role as a mother is a noble one. When asked at a cocktail party what she does, instead of saying, "I'm just a mom," MacFadyen says she can proudly proclaim, "I'm a mom, the greatest job in the world!"