The Mother of All Stupid Marketing Tricks

Mommy guilt.

As far as I’m concerned, it is the most emotionally powerful weapon in the arsenal of modern marketing. It may not sell as much as sex does (to men) or vanity does (to women) because there will never be as many mothers in a particular demographic as there are – well – men and women seeking sex and/or acceptance. However, it strikes at an emotion that runs deeper than either sex or vanity.

Its a the dirtiest of all marketing moves. A huge number of mothers, particularly young ones, are deeply concerned, of to the point of obsession, with whether they are “good” mothers. Its not a healthy thing. They constantly compare themselves to others. When their children are sad, they wonder if it is their fault. When their children get hurt or sick, they will wring their hands for hours – asking themselves whether they could have done something to prevent it. Working mothers are anxious when they have to put their kids in daycare to go to work, even though it is sometimes the only way to provide support. Stay at home mothers worry about whether – since they are the only source of emotional support and nouirshiment for their child – they are doing everything “right.” I could go on and on.

And don’t get me wrong. Fathers do this sometimes, too. But we aren’t wired in quite the same way in terms of parental instincts, so we tend to find ways to dismiss these questions more readily.

Well-designed ads and ad campaigns play off of mommy guilt in the most insidious ways. They sell over-priced diapers, over-priced food, and unneeded parenting books and children’s videos in droves. Do you suspect your child’s friends don’t like you – and, hence, that your child suffers because of your inadequacies? Buy this food product and you’ll be a big hit with those friends! Not enough time with your kids? Buy this time-saving product, and you’ll have more time to spend with them. And don’t forget baby’s precious bottom! You know that you neglect your child in so many other ways, so the least you can do is be sure that his butt is as comfortable as possible by paying 50% more for our baby care products.

I seldom get angry at marketing strategies. Most of them are pretty transparent, making it clear to the average viewer how they are trying to play off of their audience’s emotions. But this one can be very subtle, exacerbating women’s insecurities and inadequacies in ways that catch mothers (particularly young ones) compeltely unaware. It makes me angry just about every time I spot it.

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