Emily Tan
Jun 2, 2016

How brands can help mums deal with guilt: MullenLowe

While women today are changing the conversation around motherhood, guilt and internal pressure persist. How can brands help?

How brands can help mums deal with guilt: MullenLowe

There are no true stereotypes when it comes to mothers in Asia-Pacific. For example, Indian mothers are 36 times more likely than Australian mums to agree that “the child always comes first”, according a study by global think tank formed by MullenLowe, ‘Frank About Women’. This finding implies that Indian women feel most guilty about taking time to care for themselves.

The report, titled Global Motherhood, is based on an opt-in online survey which ran from February to March 2016 in Australia, China, Colombia, India, the UK and the US. The study drew samples of about 300 respondents per country who have a child between the ages of one and two years.

The degree to which mothers believe in self-sacrifice was one of the factors the study examined. On the other end of the spectrum from Indian mums, Australian mothers feel they can help baby best if they first look after themselves. Mothers in China, on the other hand, are considerably less self-effacing than mothers from India, but are less ready than Australian mums to assert that mum comes first.

“While Australia has its share of crazy mums on social media and perfectionist mummy bloggers, there is a really strong movement here around looking after yourself, mental and emotional well-being,” observed Derry Simpson, managing director of strategy and innovation of 303MullenLowe, co-author of the report and mother to three children under the age of six.

Despite this external conversation, internally, Australian mothers pressure themselves in ways they would never do to someone else, said Simpson. “I’ve seen my girlfriends, sisters… when they give other people advice, say, about breastfeeding, they say, ‘Don’t worry about it, just stop if you need to. Do the best you can’. But when they’re in the situation themselves, their own personal guilt drives them on.”


More on this research:


Brands and products have the opportunity to teach mum about the value of putting herself first and help mums embrace self-love and self-care, recommended the report:

Frank About Women would love to see a day when mum isn’t overwhelmed with guilt over getting a pedicure, a day when going to a yoga class doesn’t require an apology or when simply having an hour alone in her own home is a regular occurrence and not a negotiated event.

Another welcome approach is for brands to reinforce the role the father plays in childcare. By over-targeting mothers, brands risk either alienating involved fathers or reinforcing absent dads. Nearly eight in 10 Indian mums, for example, wish for more help from their husbands.

“So much of advertising is condescending, awful, and reinforces social stereotypes,” pointed out Simpson. “The goal of this research is to help guide and support our clients, not to create a new TVC, but to really build a conversation and relationship with mothers that is supportive of mothers and helpful for their emotional well-being.”

The pressure of social-media experts

Mothers face a great deal of judgement from family, friends and now, social media. An example blowing up right now across global media is the case of Harambe the gorilla, who was killed by zookeepers in the US in order to rescue a 4-year-old child who had wiggled his way into the gorilla’s enclosure. Since then, the child’s mother has been subject to severe online harassment from keyboard warriors citing her for negligence and ‘laziness’.

Everyone has an opinion about motherhood, and mums are finding it overwhelming, according to the study. From an era where more education is better, mums are starting to push back against a flood of too much information. The survey found that mums in the UK and Australia are the most likely to say it’s best not to consume too much information during pregnancy, as it causes them stress.

Indian women are particularly concerned, with over half of expectant moms concerned that they won’t be allowed to exert their own views on child rearing, considering nine in 10 live with extended family and 74 percent with in-laws.

Ultimately though, while they may feel pressured and worried, three-quarters of mums around the world believe it’s best to do what works best for their babies, regardless of what others say or do. Australian mums fly the flag for this stance, with 93 percent agreeing with the statement.

Things are more complicated in China and India, where mothers strive to incorporate best practices from their elders and experts. As a result, only 50 percent of mums in China and 49 percent in India are prepared to follow their own instincts over the advice of others.

With all this pressure comes stress, and brands need to be careful in the tone of voice they use when talking to mothers, cautions the report:

These mothers may very well erupt, and you don’t want to be the trigger — because they will share, and their influence on other mothers is vast. It’s important to never appear to judge or talk down to them. Even if you are a true expert, peer-to-peer tone is best when it comes to making these women feel comfortable and respected. After all, they are the experts on their children.

The tricky subject of baby formula

From the baggage of irresponsible marketing in their past to China’s milk scandal to the fraught and passionate dialogue of breast-milk activists today, baby formula manufacturers have a delicate line to walk.

It’s also a product category where mothers are prepared to invest heavily. Eight in 10 mums worldwide rank feeding supplies as the most important, and more than 75 percent of all mums agree that milk or infant formula is a product well worth splurging on/buying the best. Nowhere more so than China, where 94 percent of women, understandably, believe feeding supplies are worth paying more for. India is also above the global average at 79 percent.

“Attitudes towards formula and stages of development all affect how brands should market the product in each market,” said Simpson.

In Australia, for example, the tone to take is that of a brand that celebrates confidence and choice between formula and breastfeeding. “It’s your baby, it’s your choice," she said. "Do what’s right and we’ll support you.”

India is an interesting case because the rules are different for the more affluent mums versus those closer to the poverty line. “India is a place where you still have to focus on the medical and nutritional qualities of the product," Simpson said. "But it’s important to stop them feeling bad if they have to turn to formula. Softly does it though.”

China is in the process of very swiftly shifting from a stance that’s more like India to one that’s more like Australia. Messaging is complicated by the big issue of food safety, which cannot be ignored.

“We’ve also just finished a big research piece on food, and we asked about priorities when it comes to selecting food products. The majority of respondents looked for premium quality from a known provenance , but when it comes to China, it’s safety first,” Simpson said.

Chinese mothers (along with Indian mums) are also 95 percent more likely than the global average to encourage children to reach milestones ahead of schedule. This is the report’s gentle way of saying, ‘tiger mums’. Six in 10 Chinese mums are also interested in encouraging early use of technology in their children.

So (accurate and true) messaging around the nutritional benefits and the safety and quality of the product will likely play well.

The report advises marketers to pay attention to mums’ differing perceptions on how to best support their children’s developmental growth.

Localised cultural norms influence how mums set their own metrics, understanding that some markets focus more on speed and use all tools available to gain ground, while other markets look for more balance and quality of learning for the long haul. These subtleties could alter a product’s positioning and brand communications.

For more details on the study, go here.

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