For decades, marketers have been saying that the traditional nuclear family is on its way out. But today, with mainstream ads from big brands like Cheerios and Swiffer featuring same-sex parents, multiracial families and stay-at-home dads like it’s no big deal, it seems the old-fashioned concept of the nuclear family really is dead (or at least, in its last throes).
A recent report, “Meet the New Family,” from JWT Intelligence offers a closer look at the new normal in family life. Today, just 20 percent of U.S. households fit the definition of nuclear family (husband, wife and kids), down from 40 percent in 1970. So what’s replacing the Ozzie and Harriet setup?
Childless households. By 2020, the average number of children per household globally will be one, down from 1.9 in 1980. Marketers of children’s products are increasingly targeting PANKs and PUNKs (Professional Aunts/Uncles, No Kids), who spend an average of nearly $400 annually on each child in their lives. (As a PANK myself, I can vouch for this.)
Wives as breadwinners. Women are outpacing men in education, and more of them are also out-earning their husbands. Though the number of stay-at-home dads is still relatively low (2 million), it’s doubled since 1989, and more fathers are taking on traditionally female tasks such as housework, grocery shopping and child care.
Same-sex households. One-fourth of all same-sex households in the U.S. have children. The widening acceptance of gay marriage is leading to more mainstream depictions of gay and lesbian couples in advertisements that target families. While this concept might make some marketers nervous, the companies that have done it have experienced more positive than negative feedback.
Multigenerational households. In 2012, nearly two in 10 households held multigenerational families. There are many reasons for this, including the recession, millennials’ postponement of traditional “adulthood,” longer life expectancies and the growth in minority populations, such as Latinos and Asians, who traditionally form multigenerational households. Also a factor: The “generation gap” has narrowed, as many teens and parents today have close relationships.
Treating pets as family. More than half of all U.S. pet owners think of themselves as pet “parents” rather than “owners.” Taking pets on vacations, throwing birthday parties for them and buying elaborate headstones or funeral urns for dead pets are common behaviors. Both empty-nesters and young couples are buying pets to replace their kids or to “practice” for future parenthood. And as with kids, pet parents display their status through their animals, treating pets to luxury bedding, clothing and accessories, and seeking posh pet day-care centers. They also worry over Fido and Fluffy’s health, prompting soaring sales of allergen-free, natural and organic pet food.
Smart Marketing Moves
So what marketing lessons can you take from the rise of the “new family”? Here are a few:
- Never assume. Don’t assume young couples are planning to have kids, that a family consists of a mom and a dad, or that dad works while mom cares for the kids.
- Don’t stereotype. The “doofus dad” typically depicted in advertising as a bumbling idiot is being replaced by dads who calmly and skillfully take care of kids, cook and clean.
- Show diversity. Americans want to see advertising that reflects real life. Increasingly, that means showing interracial families, same-sex families or single-parent families in your ads.
- Be flexible. Offer products and services that can be customized for different needs, such as travel packages for singles or “family” products for three instead of four.
- People's “children” aren’t always human. To many owners, pets are children, too. If you sell a pet-related product or service, look at how similar products are marketed to human children and borrow from those ideas.
- Consider consumers’ emotional needs. In multigenerational households, independence, privacy and relaxation may be at a premium. Try using marketing messages that emphasize how your product or service helps buyers achieve these goals. Childless couples may need to have their choices validated, so marketing messages that emphasize their freedom and independence will resonate.
Tweaking your marketing efforts to reflect the diversity of the American family will help you attract your target market and maybe even gain you a few new customers.
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