He didn’t say anything at the time, but my dad started to suspect I was pregnant when I prevaricated about which triathlons I’d signed up to this season. The internet, of course, knew much, much sooner. Within a couple of weeks of shaking a pregnancy test in the face of my husband, it knew. Whether I was thumbing through Instagram or skimming articles, I increasingly found myself presented with ads for baby stuff. The only platform wide of the mark was YouTube, which optimistically continued to serve up unskippable Clearblue pre-roll.
This was not a surprising turn of events. My early searches, app downloads and general discovery missions had caused me to be dropped unceremoniously into the internet’s mum bucket. But being categorised as a mum before my child had even reached the size of an apple pip (thanks, pregnancy app!) – before I’d even told my mum – did feel weird, and got me thinking in more detail about how and why we try to reach mums.
First things first – distinguishing between mums and mums-to-be. On the whole, the way we represent pregnant women is pretty straightforward. Find a sexy pregnant lady, photograph her doing something healthy or looking generally blissed out. Aptaclub, the content wing of formula giant Aptamil, is fairly typical.
And in terms of messaging? Well in my experience, not every ad I was served was unhelpful. Every pregnancy is different, but there are a few universal truths and needs that give brands a decent window of opportunity to tap up the right women. Here are a few brands that hit the mark with me:
Seedlip – by the time I saw a promoted post on Insta for its definitely-not-a-gin-substitute, I’d been booze-free for three months and was ready to buy. It tasted like soil though, which was a shame.
Shpock – mums-to-be apparently spend up to £1,000 on baby stuff before the birth. Enter Shpock, which describes itself as the boot sale app for beautiful things. I was presented with carousels on display networks and Facebook, enticing me with beautiful bargain prams, cots and toys.
Kit & Kin – fittingly enough, the co-founder of this eco nappy brand is Emma Bunton – Baby Spice! After an evening spent enthusiastically researching sustainable nappies, I found myself the recipient of ads for a whole host of earnest eco baby brands – here’s a pretty representative example.
So what about the actual mums, how are we doing at representing them? Lest we forget, 91 per cent of women – let alone mums – feel like advertisers don’t understand them. Earlier this year, Dove made an interesting play at addressing the mum question. They used AI to blend 18,000 images of new mums’ faces, taken from UK lifestyle and parenting magazines over the past 12 months. The resultant image “Aimee” gives you an idea of how far from the mark those thousands of component images must be. Features editors certainly need to do better, but there’s a role for brands, too, and the agencies that represent them. Brands must remember that mums have identities outside of their mum-ness.
Some brands are actively trying to reimagine how we represent families. Persil, for instance, is starting to favour ‘free range families’, of which mums could be one of a cast of characters, rather than the gravy/laundry/cleaning fetishists who have skittered across our TVs for decades.
I’ve still got some time left before stepping out (perhaps make that hobbling painfully) into full mumhood. Will the ads I’m targeted with change? Almost certainly. Some will be surprisingly helpful; others will fall wide of the mark. Ultimately though, the most reliable source for products and services probably won’t be the internet at all (sorry internet), but the women in my life who have successfully kept babies alive and reasonably healthy. Wish me luck!