Parenthood is a journey, and with that journey comes everyday struggles that most parents inevitably face. In conversation with Daniel Roberts, Creative Director at The Romans, we chat about the messy journey parenthood entails, the challenges of falling into modern stereotypes, and where we're still missing the mark.
How has the depiction of parenthood in advertising evolved?
Gone are the days of the Oxo family filling our screens with a nuclear setup that puts mom at the head of the table serving the family roast whilst dad cracks the jokes, plays the fool and has the kids howling.
The conventions, traditions and ‘ideals’ of parenting have gone out the window as the industry has realised parenthood and all its beautiful chaos is a much more engaging landscape to tell a story.
This change in approach has allowed brands to establish a deeper connection with their target audience. By acknowledging the challenges and embracing the imperfections, advertisers demonstrate empathy and understanding. They strive to portray parenthood as a journey rather than an unattainable ideal, resonating with the everyday struggles and triumphs that parents experience.
How are agencies and brands adapting ad comms to inclusivity around parenting?
There’s definitely a notable push for parenting in comms to be more inclusive. But this has created its own set of unique challenges as agencies and brands attempt to navigate the tightrope of cancel culture. We all remember the Sainsbury’s Christmas controversy and it’s a prime example that you can’t please all of the people all of the time – nor should you.
And whilst the industry has shifted to try and ensure it represents the more modern family dynamics of its audience, I’m not all that convinced it’s managed to do it with the authenticity it believes it has. We’ve unintentionally drifted into new stereotypes, with multi-cultural families largely consisting of identical setups, same-sex parents often being used as the unexpected ‘twist’ in the narrative and single parent dads depicted as the incapable strugglers who need all the help they can get just to function in normal daily life.
It only takes a quick google to find the marketers guilty of falling into these stereotypical traps and it’s something the industry must work hard to avoid. If we don’t, in 30 year’s time we’ll look back on our work with similar ‘Oxo family’ eye-rolls.
In what ways does your role as a parent inform your work?
Despite being constantly tired? As a parenting ‘noob’ my six months in the trenches hasn’t fully broken into my creative approach just yet.
What are some areas regarding parenthood that you feel could use more visibility in advertising?
Parents themselves. In particular what parents go through outside of the kids. It’s a whirlwind of emotions and so many parents find it tough. The focus from our industry instantly goes to the child and parents become the secondary message – which is also pretty ironic when they are the ones with the buying power. The lack of conversation and representation around post-natal challenges only perpetuates the feeling of being alone. The issue is, millions of parents are feeling lonely, and if this feeling was represented and spoken about in a way that is authentic, by brands that have a right to play in the space, it would no doubt create positive change and prepare future generations to understand what they can expect to face when becoming a parent themselves.
Legal guardians can play a significant role in the lives of children who are no longer with their birth parents. How can brands balance the importance placed on these other parental figures in their messaging?
I think legal guardians are definitely the forgotten heroes of the parenting world. For me John Lewis raised this point beautifully in last year’s Christmas campaign and I’m sure that will have sparked many more examples of scripts currently in development. I also think we shouldn’t forget or dismiss ‘non-legal’ guardians. The grandparents who take in the grandkids and raise them as their own because family circumstances leave them no other choice. The siblings who take up the role of mum or dad even though mum or dad might still be around. Parents and more broadly - families, come in all different shapes and sizes and I think when we delve into these areas, we unearth stories that connect on a much deeper level and create work people care about - not just consume.