The rise of the modern family

Written by
Poke Studio

Family is a loaded word, so it’s no surprise popular culture in general, and advertising in particular, tends to steer towards a very narrow definition of it. Two recent campaigns have been receiving quite a bit of buzz for challenging this view: they feature real life same-sex couples.

Many of us at Poke saw this as a much needed change of direction, which led to a discussion around why so many brands shy away from same-sex couples and modern families. Time for a round of all-agency email - here are some things we picked up:

“Progressive brands are more open to the idea of portraying a modern family. Yet a modern family is becoming the norm and shouldn’t be considered “radical”. If anyone should be tapping into this it should be big normal brands such as Tesco who cater to such a diverse range of people and families.”

Progressive brands know that if they want to see a future for their companies, they have to acknowledge a changing society. This does run the risk of making some conservatives uncomfortable, but there are lots of brands that, despite their best strategy efforts, don’t nail bigger societal trends. So if we see the modern family happening all around us, why do big brands shy away from portraying them?

“As far as they’re concerned the family unit is nothing but a vessel to land their message, or they want to actively avoid something that would potentially upset an existing audience.” 

The people who buy us won’t buy us anymore! When America the Beautiful aired, the long-lasting negative sentiment remained unchanged, but they suddenly found a lot of new people cheering Coca Cola on for their bravery. This is an important point for anyone doing comms on the internet today:

“If you’re afraid of giving your brand a voice then you have no clue what building a brand is about. Brands exist because they take stances and have opinions because only opinions spark conversations. We live in the age of conversation. How do you expect people to talk to your brand if your brand has no opinion about anything?”

One type of family is still heavily overlooked.

“I actually see single parents as a much larger demographic who are never represented. The glaring omission in the UK ad industry’s representation of ‘family’ isn’t same sex couples with dependent kids, it’s single parents with dependent kids, who make up nearly 25% of the UK population of ‘families with dependent kids’.”

We checked, and according to the Office for National Statistics, there were almost 1.9m lone parents with dependent kids in 2013 and the figure is steadily growing. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a reality. People get uncomfortable when confronted with a reality that doesn’t correspond with their model of the world, but that’s exactly what happened when Jack Monroe appeared: single motherhood and poverty were no longer nebulous concepts, they had a name, a face, and even talked. 

The discussion around the concept of ‘the modern family’ is so vast, it also made us think about how we bring about change. Representing modern people and families starts in UX and strategy: we survey Britain and its habits, and when we build personas we don’t just default to the usual male personas or one-dimensional people with narrow interests. We’ve introduced “couple” personas to a project where the purchase decision shifted from one person to another throughout the journey, and we also introduced more unexpected personas to generate healthy conversations in workshops and help the decision-making process.

We’ve not encountered resistance from our clients, but ultimately we think the best approach in changing brand behaviour is to do it without comment: to present modern casting options without making a big deal out of it. It shouldn’t come across as a nice gesture or an attempt to score ‘brand points’ but rather as a means to help brands accurately reflect the world we live in.  

As USA Today said: "Whatever a traditional family used to be, it is no longer."