Are brands obsessed with youth missing out on the the new Indian parent?
Instant food to instant education, don’t diss the new-age Indian parents, who are young professionals with lives that don’t necessarily revolve around their kids. But do brands obsessed with the youth market really see this influential subset?
Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’, remember that Onida tagline? Although it is from an advertising age long gone, it’s timeless as the words encapsulate a very natural human tendency to show-off one’s possessions — TV, home, the paint on its walls, phone, job, et cetera. Take cars, for instance. A vehicle is your Facebook page on wheels, really. It’s how you want to the world to see you. Are you a well oiled German sedan or a colossal American SUV? What’s your profile if you are a Japanese smart-car or a Korean hatchback or an Indian compact?
Now, and we may get into all sorts of trouble with parent associations for the following statement, — your children are like cars. That’s not something you say out loud, naturally. However, we couldn’t be closer to the truth when we say that it doesn’t quite matter if you are an analogue maa or digital mom; kids are a barometer of their parents’ success in the world. In fact, the urge to ‘display’ offspring is peculiar to the Indian parent, says Partha Sinha, managing partner, BBH India. Earlier it was as simple as a rendition of the classic ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ at a social gathering. Now it’s posting a compendium of photographs of everything from fetus to the firstborn’s piano recital at school. He says, “Children in India have the highest display value and 'performing' kids are always a source of pride for the parents. It has got nothing to do with the child and everything to do with their parents.”
As a result most of the communication we have seen in the market feeds off and fuels this well masked competitive drive nesting in parents. But what sets a new generation of parents apart from the previous one? Is it just that they have a lot more avenues to show off their offspring than before? According to Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer, South & South East Asia, Grey, the previous generations were largely reconciled to their class and place in life. In today’s times however, if you aren’t successful, you have no one but yourself to blame. That pretty much means that all parents today are like coaches, preparing their children to win a medal in the athletics of life. “They don’t want their child to be left behind just because they didn’t give adequate training or calcium absorbing Bournvita,” says Sinha. The strap line for Bournvita is 'tayyari jeet ki' (preparing to win) — recognition of the fact that today’s world is an increasingly competitive place for children. ‘Kal Ke Genius’ from ParleG encourages adults to not hold back children and allow them to explore their inner Einstein, Picasso and Superman.
We see a lot of effort recently trying to target new age parents – but, with the exception of few, it’s mostly superficial, say the experts. It’s confined to commercials about products that make your kids stronger, brighter and smarter than the next. Most advertising aimed at parents has a visual vocabulary which is fraught with clichés like trophies, 'outsmarting' other children, winning competitions, et cetera. “Today's communication just tries to change the context and claim modernity,” says Sinha of BBH.
And, although beating the best-friend’s kids is important, there’s a whole new generation of parents with an additional set of needs and wants entering the market. An influential subset of moms and dads who raise their progeny on a steady diet of old and new school values, how-to books, friendly and professional recommendations and technology that brings the whole world to the nursery. (Mothers constitute one of the largest and fastest growing communities of women online.)
Urban parenting is reaching a stage where fewer women are dropping out of the workforce after having children. A point L’Oreal drove home with its campaign featuring post-baby Aishwarya Rai. Sometimes the mother’s absence from a piece of communication speaks volumes too. A commercial for cookie brand Oreo had son playing a game of how to steal a cookie with daddy, not mommy, who, it would be safe to assume, could be chairing a meeting at work. Etailers like Babyoye and Firstcry specialising in baby products that include everything from breast pumps to booties, thrive on the business of cash rich, time-strapped parents. There’s even an edutainment cum social network site for kids, Worldoo launched recently. A baby economy is what it is.
Clearly, the age of Lalitaji, her days filled with just shopping and household chores, are over and the era of super moms and dads who can handle carpools and cleaning, work and washing and still make dinner, with the help of a maid or ready-made foods, of course, is here. Today’s Indian parents aren’t anti-consumption. Chocolate biscuits are allowed at breakfast, Tang and Tropicana have replaced fresh juice as a source of vitamins and Maggi has become an acceptable meal, a mid-point between nutrition and taste. Brands like HUL’s Knorr have a range of products for parents who want to feed their kids healthy foods but don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to make carrot soup from scratch.
“Parents have begun to treat everything, including parenting as ‘project management’,” says Mallika Shankarnarayan, human experience strategy director, P&G, Asia and SMG India, Starcom Media Worldwide. “Parents aren’t just expecting their kids to do better, but also do more,” she says. The insight for HP's printers is based on the need for children to take printouts to complete their homework which is the biggest driver of sales.
Sure, parents have become more obsessive about their kids, but they have also become more hands-off, delegating and outsourcing many key tasks, sometimes to God. For instance, in a Volkswagen Polo commercial titled Bluetooth God, a young mother picks up her son from school, tells him he must finish his homework without help because she and her husband have a night-off from parental duties. If he doesn’t do so, God will punish him. To that the kid replies the big guy doesn’t have the time. On cue, the voice of god (dad doing a half-decent Morgan Freeman impression) filters through the Bluetooth device scaring the kid into agreeing to do his homework.
So what’s your brand doing to help parents whose lives revolve around but are not tied down to their kids? The fact is very few brands have looked at the personal desires of parents, their individual struggles and tried to find a need gap there. According to Mittu Torka, senior strategy planner, Bates CHI & Partners, who also runs 'Project Mom' — a focused ongoing study by the agency; “Young Indian parents are not okay with giving up their individual identity when they have a baby. There is a desire to create a balance around the professional, personal and parental duties and roles they have to play. For instance in the humdrum of their demanding lives, they seek ways to invest in themselves.” Spending quality “me time” is a concern. They no longer have closed approach towards parenting, they believe that they have to keep themselves happy and informed to be able to add more value to their kids’ lives.
Mythili Chandrasekar, senior VP and executive planning director, JWT says, “Think of the products that are launched for the working woman household group, design and innovation in home and kitchen electricals, the number of ready to cook brands, frozen to just add water, cakes to idlis. Services like agencies that supply maids, nurses for the elderly, old age homes, stress relief products, ordering-in from food outlets, pre-packed festival kits ( which have everything from haldi, kumkum and paan supari to sweets and flowers), and so many more. As these categories become bigger, they will come into mainstream advertising.”
Yes, new age parents are a new ‘strategic’ focus within a segment that was already important. What ought to draw in marketers is their increasing affluence levels, sophisticated expectations and exposure. And because of the various categories they buy and influence — from yoga classes and drama programmes to clothes, holiday destinations, FMCG, and technology. The problem is products and services today are specially crafted for the 18 - 25 age group, even ad campaigns are designed to appeal to this lot. In this race to acquire the minds and hearts of the youth, are marketers losing sight of an important, and growing, subset — the digital age parent?