Nothing gets the attention of the world's biggest advertiser like $500-million.
That's the sales boost that Procter & Gamble Co. landed with its campaign during the Olympic Games in London in 2012 – declaring itself a "proud sponsor of moms."
This month, P&G renewed the campaign concept as it readies for the Games in Sochi, Russia. It is looking to duplicate the kind of emotional connection it forged with women worldwide by focusing on the mothers who made athletes great. And it is far from alone: companies everywhere are trying to connect with moms, who make many of the purchasing decisions in their households.
But increasingly, traditional advertising is not making that connection. More and more women are connecting with each other online, specifically in communities of their peers – whether on social media such as Facebook, or through "mommy blogs" that have given women a platform on which to speak about their parenting decisions, their family lives, and the ups and downs of motherhood.
And as marketers try to tap into those communities, a growing number of mommy bloggers are landing corporate positions.
Jen Maier, who created the blogging and online social network UrbanMoms.ca, was recently hired by Nestle Canada to manage its brand and content strategy.
Rebecca Brown, a Toronto blogger who founded Rec Room – a consulting agency focused on marketing effectively to mothers and families – merged with digital advertising and communications agency Entrinsic in June. Ms. Brown now helps to manage online and social media strategy for brands such as Royal Bank of Canada, McCain Foods Ltd., and Travelocity.ca.
And Catherine Connors, a Vancouver native who started the blog Her Bad Mother in 2006 – named one of the 25 best blogs in 2012 by Time Magazine – now lives in Los Angeles, where she manages content and brand strategy for Disney Interactive. That is the division of the company that creates products and content targeted to women and moms, such as online community Baby Zone and the photo and video sharing app for mobile phones called Story.
"Mommy bloggers have been in the game since blogging started, and since social media started," Ms. Brown said. "… Most big brands are making an investment in [digital] content marketing, and you're seeing a lot of those mommy bloggers taking on executive roles."
Hires like these illustrate a shift in how marketers are interacting with the female community online. In the mid-2000s when companies began to recognize the potential of mommy bloggers, it was as influencers – people that could more efficiently hawk products on their behalf. They reached out with freebies and hired consultants, all in a bid to get a bit of product placement from these online publishers who had a particular type of clout among a certain cohort of readers.
While that kind of blogger outreach is still a huge part of many marketers' plans, parenting bloggers are beginning to move beyond product reviews or freelance consulting work for advertisers, and to be brought into corporations' marketing teams.
"Companies have gotten better at realizing that the objective shouldn't be to get your story in front of moms. It should be to have your story become part of hers; so that when moms are in digital environments, their engagement with what you're doing is organic and authentic," Ms. Connors said.
Authenticity is an important watchword: In September, Nielsen released the findings of a global survey showing that the most trusted type of advertising is word of mouth. In other words, people prefer to hear about products and services in a manner that does not feel like advertising, and that is associated with the opinion of someone to whom they relate.
Marketers have always recognized the power of word of mouth. But the proliferation of social media has amplified that power exponentially. Not only are consumers able to reach potentially millions of people with opinions about brands that they once only shared over a neighbour's fence; but companies in turn are able to respond – if they know how. That's why they need people who speak the language of those communities.
"Women who are native to that space know it best," Ms. Connors said.
"The landscape of media facing moms and families has changed. Ten years ago, a new mom would go to the magazine stand … The expectation now is to get your information from your community, not just your peers as you might have identified them traditionally, but other moms like you."
As a former academic, who received a PhD in political science from the University of Toronto, Ms. Connors focused on studying women and mothers and their role in the history of political thought. When she first began reading mommy blogs, she was fascinated by the fact that what was formerly a private space – the family – was suddenly made public by a group of people who had not throughout history been given a platform to tell their stories.
She believes women who have been part of that world are valued by marketers because they know the sensitivities of different groups based on parenting ethos; appreciate the differences between mothers in different geographical, cultural, and demographic groups; and know how to take part in those conversations without striking the wrong tone.
That's a peril all too many marketers face as they chase a massive consumer segment: According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, released in September, women control $12.5-trillion in earned income worldwide, a number that's expected to rise by $6-trillion over the next five years. As the frequent primary shopper in the household, women – especially moms – have a great deal of spending power. And yet, Boston Consulting Group's survey of nearly 7,800 women in 13 countries, many women are still dissatisfied with the way companies market their products to them.
"Very often the mother is the decision maker. If you're going to start interacting with those groups of people, you want to make sure the person doing that is not completely different from the people you're interacting with," said Brian Simpson, operations and media relations manager for Travelocity.ca, which works with Entrinsic.
With social media starting to look more like mass media in terms of its advertising potential, that kind of authentic voice is key.
Companies are not only recognizing the power of moms. As fathers take on a more active role in family life, marketers are also tapping that community for its knowledge and expertise on how to speak to all parents. Blogger Charlie Capen, for example, is director of online engagement for 20th Century Fox Television.
People who are tapped into parenting circles online know how to insert brands into conversations that are already happening. Last summer, when Disney launched the newest version of its family-targeted video game, Infinity, rather than only advertising the fun of the game for kids Ms. Connors and her team also recognized that there is an active discussion going on in parenting communities about the value of gaming – with many making an effort to cut down on screen time in the home.
Disney responded by using the blog network it owns, Babble, to publish stories about how games can enhance family together time – a campaign that is ongoing.
With Entrinsic, Ms. Brown has begun co-ordinating monthly Twitter chats for RBC to connect with consumers and to answer questions on topics such as buying their first home or kick-starting a career. She has also put her blogging experience to use as part of the team running a corporate blog for McCain.
"It is really easy to view any blogger just as someone to act as an influencer" or to give an endorsement, said Entrinsic founder and president Eli Singer. "That doesn't inject you into the community. It doesn't make you part of the conversation. … This is not to say that dads and kids aren't relevant. But moms are, in many homes, the hub of communication. They play a powerful role."