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Madhukar Sabnavis: Of parenting and children

Madhukar Sabnavis  |  New Delhi 

The relationship has changed but it's worth going back to the core.
 
This is the week of "" the "" the Cute, adorable, precocious yet lovable, intelligent, mischievous, naughty and playful "" something every parent wants his kid to be like. So it's a good time to sit back and see how kids and parents have evolved in India over the years "" what has changed and what hasn't.
 
In the advertising and marketing world, parenting has mostly meant motherhood. The father has remained the bread-winner, the person who brings in the money and occasionally plays with his kids. And he is the authority figure "" all teenage rebellion happens against him.
 
In a study done by Ogilvy some time ago, four types of mothers emerged. Interestingly each had its roots in
 
  • The indulgent mother: The one who encourages her child to grow the way she wants to, nudging and guiding him along without dictating. Yashoda is the mythological representative of this type.
  • The purposeful or disciplined mother: The one who drives her kids to achieve their potential and do well in the outside world. Kunti represents this type "" the typical middle class mother!
  • The ambitious mother is the one who not only has dreams for her kids but goes out negotiating and fighting the larger world to ensure they get their rightful place in the sun. This type has its roots in Kaikeyi of the Ramayana.
  • The helpless or coping mother, who spends most of her time trying to manage life and provide for the family. Bringing up kids is one more chore to be taken care of in a tough everyday life "" this mother largely exists in the lower socio-economic categories and is typified by Gandhari of
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    Much of brand advertising of the 80s and early 90s reflected the purposeful mother "" she was aspirational. With more and more women going out of home to work, with greater exposure to the west through the media boom and the technology revolution, things began to change. The purposeful mother gave way to the indulgent one. New patterns began to emerge in the parent-child relationship. And the centre of gravity of the relationship quietly shifted.
     
    First, the basic equation changed. The concept of "Badi" (Big) became "buddy". From top-down, where parents told children what to do, the relationship became more "friendly". A Bournvita commercial in the late 90s is instructive of this. The mother instead of ordering her child to his homework makes him realise through more "adult" talk the value of "finishing studies" before going for playing. Explaining things rather than telling has become the norm.
     
    Second, gender equalisation in parenting emerged with more and more fathers taking an active role. The "metro-sexual" male phenomenon aided the process "" making mothering no longer a "feminine" thing to do.
     
    Third, roles got reversed "" kids have become the teachers of their parents. This has always been the case in low-income households "" children are a family's window to the world. But this moved up the social classes with the emergence of technology products. This perhaps contributed to and benefited from the more friendly "parent-child" relationship.
     
    Finally, as kids began to grow older-younger "" a result of the media and technological booms "" they became more knowledgeable and hence more active members in the decision-making process of many products. Combined with the increased role of pester power, categories traditionally targeted at the mother shifted focus to the child "" not just as an "inclusive" audience but often as the core audience. This was the big brand shift. Top Ramen noodles targeted kids as core audience in the 90s as a challenger strategy against leader Maggi. Pepsodent's successful "dishoom-dishoom" campaign's power lies both in its "mother" promise of germ fight as its endearment to children (the brand actually ran promotions aimed at kids to gather pester power). And the bastion of mother-oriented advertising collapsed when the milk food drinks moved to kids. Boost as a challenger brand had done it successfully in the 90s, but in the new millennium "" Horlicks, Bournvita and even Complan (subtly though) "" changed tracks to appeal to kids.
     
    Thus, if the late 80s was a period when "mother" was all-pervasive in advertising, today the mother (and motherhood) has slowly disappeared from advertising. Where it does exist, it seems to look and feel archaic.
     
    Are parenting and motherhood no longer a persuasive hook to drive brands? It is hard to believe that this is true.
     
    Consider this from Mike Agassi, father of the tennis superstar's book:
     
    "Parents are the greatest teachers in the world. Practically every player on the tour "" man or woman "" has at least one parent who is or acts as a certifiable lunatic "" the overzealous parent. Mary Piece, Jelena Dokic, William sisters, Stefi Graf and Andre Agassi had their fathers, Jimmy Connors and Monica Seles had their mothers". Simply put, behind every successful star is a driven parent. If this is true for an individualistic society like the west, it is difficult to believe that this is untrue in an affiliative, family-oriented society like India.
     
    There is perhaps the opportunity for brands and advertising in the future "" to go back to the parent and explore core but perhaps newer values of the parent-child relationship. If the 80s were about the softer values like care and warmth, the next generation values could be the harder values.
     
    Let's look at some possibilities:
  • Protection, a value every parent feels about his/her child, becomes more important in today's uncertain world. The confident young generation lives in a world of unknown enemies "" from terrorism to diseases to setbacks ready to hit you in a competitive world "" and parents remain and will always be the final cushion.
  • The dream of parents remains to see their children succeed and make a name in this world. While the Kaikeyi archetype could sound "negative", it could be a truer representation of what parents today work towards for their children (notice the number of parents accompanying their children to the various talent show trials!).
  • In a world of consumerism and materialism, the biggest preservers and transmitters of human values are parents. This could strike a big chord "" because ultimately every parent wants his or her kids to be good human beings
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    There may be an opportunity to revisit the basic pillars of the relationship and establish brands in that context.
     
    Something worth thinking about.
     
    The author is Country Head, Discovery and Planning, Ogilvy and Mather, India.

    madhukar.sabnavis@ogilvy.com

     
     

    First Published: Fri, September 07 2007. 00:00 IST
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