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Marketers must be aware of changes in family life to effectively engage parents

Advertising that doesn’t pigeonhole parents and smart communications will win out

Before Covid-19, things were already changing in Irish family life, with traditional formats giving way to new-look families such as “boomerang” kids returning home, same-sex parents and more stay-at-home dads.

But what does the pandemic mean for the future of the Irish family? Our Family Life survey (March 2021) addressed some key questions about family life in the aftermath of the crisis. It attracted 823 responses across the age spectrum and from various family types living in Ireland.

Although phrases like the “Roaring 20s” and “pent-up consumer demand” have gained currency, that’s far from the whole story. Only 4 per cent of parents surveyed plan to spend heavily as the crisis recedes, while 39 per cent intend to keep any savings accumulated during the pandemic. Eleven per cent say they will spend some and save some, while just more than a quarter (26 per cent) didn’t manage to save at all during the pandemic.

There has been a move to more conscious consumerism. As one parent commented, “I think we’ll go shopping less as we got used to having less and buying more meaningfully. We’ll also go down to one car.”


Buying decisions are no longer as gender-specific as people may think. The dynamic of buying anything “family- related” is not binary: the purchaser is not necessarily the decision-maker and, depending on the category, there may be multiple influencers. Marketers really need to understand that how families buy differs enormously from groceries to white goods, and from entertainment to finances.

Parents also told us they have appreciated being able to spend quality time with the family. Many said they realised just how much they had been packing into their own lives and those of their children. When asked what would change permanently in family life, the number one item was a change in  priorities, second was having more family time, and third was the option to work from home more.

The pandemic has accelerated changes in family life that marketers need to be aware of and tap into.

Parents are people too

Many marketers tend to think about consumer segments in a very specific way – by age, life stage or interest. It is too often assumed that once people have children, the only thing they are interested in is buying for their kids. In fact, most parents hate being targeted as such by marketers.

A media buyer for a movie brand couldn’t understand why parents would want to see ads for non-kids’ films.

But think date nights or a girls' night out; these are opportunities to market more than just kids' products. 
In fact, we have found that parents are happy to give feedback on all aspects of their lives and what influences them.

They want to be involved with improving products and services for themselves as well as their family, and they definitely are interested in so much more than kids’ stuff.

Parents have a really wide network including extended family, school and college friends, and work colleagues, all built up over many years. As their children grow, so do parents’ networks with school, sports, after-school activities – and then there’s the parents’ own activities and interests, and the many, many WhatsApp groups they are part of.

These connections only increase over time, especially in a digital world. If you can communicate with parents and build trust, this increases the likelihood of them recommending your brand to their network.

Recommendations and reviews from family and friends consistently come top across all categories as a reason for buying, whether it be new beauty products, family car upgrade, where to buy paint or even which orthodontist to go to.

Beyond their children, parents have the power to influence and often even purchase for their close network. They are heavily involved in shopping choices that their parents, siblings and even their older kids (the ones that have left home) make. Even after leaving home, children will often ask parents for input on big purchases.

Making sure you have brand awareness, not only with the decision-maker but their immediate stakeholder group, is another trick that often B2C marketers miss. Don’t discount the power of the parent network.


Covid has clearly shifted more shopping to online or click-and-collect experiences.

However, research we conducted on behalf of Retail Excellence Ireland in June 2021 found that parents had missed the experience of going into stores, particularly when it comes to buying clothing and shoes.

One parent said, “I am looking forward to going in-store shopping but can honestly say that I have got somewhat used to online shopping and will continue with it too.”

Parents have embraced online shopping because they’ve had to. Brexit has made people switch away from UK sites, and the pandemic has instilled a desire to support and buy Irish. But parents tell us there is room for improvement on Irish websites, that stock levels need to be up to date and they want competitive delivery and easier return options.

When asked about shopping online versus in-store, 41 per cent say they intend to do an equal mix of both, 35 per cent say they will shop more in-store and 23 per cent say they will shop more online.

Recent Kantar numbers showed households are still spending an extra ¤200 a week on take-home groceries and the decline in online grocery shopping. Our research mirrors this, with parents saying they’ve continued cooking at home rather than going out to eat and drink, and that prices have increased. During lockdown, going grocery shopping was a legitimate excuse to get out of the house.

Finally, we asked what parents think of digital advertising. It turns out they don’t mind sponsored content or social media ads from a brand, but pet hates are banner and pop-up ads.

Influencer ads didn’t perform well either, only 16 per cent of parents say they are positively influenced by these “opinion leaders”.

Parents are savvy shoppers, they like to hear from other people, but knowing someone has been paid to promote a product doesn’t necessarily convince them to buy it.

Longer-term value

We’ve been working on some projects with partners recently looking at activating parents through word of mouth, which has the potential to deliver longer-term value to a brand. Understanding how to tap into how parents recommend to each other and to their network is key.

In summary, when it comes to parents, well-considered communications and sense-checked advertising that doesn’t pigeonhole parents will win out. Businesses and brands absolutely have to do a better job at communicating value and quality to build trust. They need to ask for recommendations, reward loyalty and get insights into different aspects of their business to improve and gain a share of spend from this segment.

We have seen this with the projects we have been running for our partners.

Listening to parents, asking them what they want, sense-checking offers, communications and creatives is all going to help maximise your marketing return on investment.

Fundamentally, if you are marketing to parents and you are not working out how to talk to parents and get that feedback, then you are missing the ultimate trick.