Running Afoul or Runaway Success: 3 Key Steps to Effective Mom Engagement

A week ago, high-end baby stroller company, Bugaboo, posted this photo to its Instagram account with the caption: “Wow doesn’t model and mother of 2-year-old Lymée, Ymre Stiekema, look amazing in this @nlvogue shoot! Check out the Bugaboo Journal (link in bio) to read our interview with the real-life Bugaboo Runner. #runfree #bugaboorunner #bugaboo #style #fashion.”

Moms reacted, quickly and loudly. Comments to the post on Instagram and via other social media chided the company and questioned Bugaboo’s use of an unrealistic body image, declaring it to be a “horrible promotion.” Many moms shared personal stories about the realities of their “running” lives, which were in stark contrast to the perfection in the image.

Then, more moms reacted. But, they were not just jumping on the bandwagon. They were running in the opposite direction. “Yay for active mums.” and “She looks fantastic.” were among the many comments posted. “Don’t judge.” emerged as the predominant theme with commenters chiding women for not being supportive of other moms.

With so many powerful and compelling voices contributing to a brand conversation, what’s a company to do (click to tweet)?

As a global trend spotter, someone who has spent my entire career focusing on how big consumer brands market to women and moms, and as a mother myself, I see three lessons that can be learned from this situation:

1. Context is key.
Some women were clearly insulted by the use of body image perfection. But, I don’t think it was primarily the image that drove moms to react so viscerally. In fact, the image (mom with child in stroller in nice location) is pretty consistent with the other imagery on the brand’s account. Many of the moms I spoke to, including an OB/GYN who works with new moms all the time, said the model/mom was motivational, though not the norm. I believe it’s the lack of context in the caption that left the image open for criticism. While social media does not lend itself to a long backstory, simply adding more context like “definitely a beauty shot … model, elite runner, mom and Bugaboo enthusiast, Ymre and her daughter appear in a @nlvogue photo shoot” would have minimized the impact. Admit it’s not real life for most of us. With that context, it’s OK. Eva Chen, @evachen212, the new fashion editor at Instagram and former fashion editor at Lucky Magazine, is masterful in her account with images and captions that are upscale and accessible at the same time, often incorporating emojis to convey “feeling” along with the words.

2. Conversation is good.
Not everyone is going to love every marketing effort. Especially when dealing with moms online, brands must know and respect that there are varying opinions that will be shared with powerful emotion. Being a mom is intense. We care about our role as a mom more than anything else in the world, and often we struggle with unrealistic expectations.  I advise marketers to facilitate the conversation and let moms express themselves. As a brand, if you are not up for real, human conversations, complete with the good, bad and ugly, then you are probably shouldn’t be on social media. Bugaboos post generated 482 comments, exceeding the average comment rate on its other posts by hundreds, which is great. They sparked. When a brand is in that situation, there is opportunity to participate in the conversation rather than lay low.

3. One size does not fit all.
Moms run the gamut and come in all shapes and sizes, literally and philosophically. What’s more, moms are now the primary breadwinner, or are on par with their partner in earning power, in nearly 50 percent of families. Increased wage earning responsibility comes with more stress, less time for health and feelings of less control of destiny and purpose according to Ketchum’s PheMOMenon study. In response, brands need to help moms achieve their personal success, streamline everything, help them share modern family responsibilities and build a sense of purpose.   In Bugaboo’s case, they were hitting on a number of these core needs, but one size does not fit all, especially when featuring body image. Brands should always incorporate diversity, and be sure to really know the composition of their consumer audience.

As moms, we talk about challenging situations as “teachable” moments with our kids. This example strikes me as a particularly good one for marketers.  Let’s learn and move forward.

About Kelley Skoloda

Kelley is a Partner and Director of Ketchum's Global Brand Marketing Practice. She is the author of of the business book, Too Busy to Shop: Marketing to Multi-Minding Women (Praeger/Mar 2009) and the architect of the widely-publicized Women 25to54 offering.