Emmerich and Webb/ Image Source
Emmerich and Webb/ Image Source

Compelling research by Mindshare and Time.Inc will shape how advertisers and photographers need to think about and visualise “Family”

How has the social concept of Family changed? How does that play out visually? We wanted to find out more about the shifting dynamics of Family so we contacted Mark Potts, Head of Consumer Insight at Mindshare. With 155 offices in 82 countries Mindshare is a global media agency whose clients range from Dyson to Diesel and IBM to Nike. We wanted to talk to Mindshare because of some seriously interesting research they did with Time.Inc called, “Connecting with Today’s Families”.

The study got a lot of attention at the time, delivering insight around new kinds of families, their perception of mainstream media, and how they feel about the way Family is portrayed in advertising – often in ways that doesn’t represent their experience of Family.

The interview below with Mark Potts is a fascinating insight into the fast-growing, non-traditional families – mixed-race, multi-generational, single-parent, same-sex, Blended families. The quantitative research done by Mindshare echoes many of the findings of our own qualitative research. And for those who think print is dead, Potts offers some fascinating insight for advertisers on the value of magazines.

Was Family a new area of research for Mindshare or part of an ongoing interest?

Mark Potts: We are continually looking to understand the Family. The work we did with Time.inc was a big one-off study. In our own ongoing research we ask questions about different types of families.

What was the most significant finding in Connecting With Today’s Family? And in terms of “Today’s Family” what kinds of benchmarks, what kinds of historical idea of Family were you comparing with?

Mark Potts: In the US as in the UK there has clearly been a shift from the idea of Family meaning ‘a man and a woman who are married, and have a household of children who are biologically their own’. In the US, and in the UK there has been a decline of people getting married in the first place, an increase in single-parent families, a move towards an acceptance of same-sex parents. And I don’t know if this is the same in the UK, but in the US there has been a growth in multi-generational families, grandparents living at home with parents and children.

Zoey / Image Source
Zoey / Image Source

The “Sandwich Generation”?

The multi-generational trend in the US is partly driven by Hispanics who are likely to be living in multi-generational households. Much more of a Family-focus among Spanish consumers here. There’s also been an increase in mixed-race families, and step-families, which is sometimes referred to as the “Blended Family”.

What it has meant is that the kind of traditional nuclear family is on the decline, as family comes to mean something much more complex.

That was our benchmark, that was the reason for doing the work. There were probably two big findings. One was that single-parent families, blended families, same-sex families there is a sense that there has been a barrier to overcome. Whether that’s having to live in a house that’s very different to their friends, or having to deal with the trauma of a parent leaving home, or step-parents coming in. In the non-traditional family children often become even more of a priority and focus, giving children more, being more concerned to make sure that they are happy.

Two women with girl in park

You see it in the data we collected, across almost all families, they [New Family] are more likely to agree with the statement that, “I stay up to date with the latest information on how to best bring up my children”. You see that more same-sex families, single parent families, multi-generational families, blended families, do that much more than traditional families.

Single-parent families are particularly more likely to say things like, “it’s really important to me that my children are happy. That rates very highly. There’s this sense of even more putting children at the centre of family life. That’s one big finding. The other big finding is that these families are not reflected in media or marketing, although that’s changing. And there’s a sense of feeling a bit neglected by, what they see out there in the media.

Yellowdog / Cultura RM
Yellowdog / Cultura RM

And this would be in advertising, TV, cinema?

We asked the question both ways. We asked whether these families were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the ways society views families like yours. All these families reported being less-satisfied than traditional families. And we also asked the question, “ Most advertising I see does not show families like mine.” Unsurprisingly this rates very highly in non-traditional families; 55% of all non-traditional families (if we put them all in one group) agree with that statement.

You suggest that it’s changing. Have you noted any TV or campaigns that ring truer or connects better with the non-traditional family?

Not so much in advertising but there are certainly TV shows that touch on this. Modern Family is a popular hit and clearly reflects on those non-traditional families.

Was there any research on how these non-traditional families communicate or share information or how they relate to each other? How they spend time together?

It varied a bit by family. Single-parent family tended to rely on their children more for filling in the gap that’s been created by not having someone there helping out. Having the children to help out with the shopping, helping make decisions about vacations, about what type of car to buy all those things. And that’s a very functional thing. Single parent families leaning more on their children to help them make decisions and help them run the household.

Tony Garcia / Image Source
Tony Garcia / Image Source

In multi-generational families it’s interesting how media is used. They are more likely to read and share magazines, because it’s a very shareable media and gets passed around. There is also qualitative research there.

In a couple of the family types there’s more of an onus on pushing children to be successful, we saw that with multi-generational families, with same-sex families. They were more likely to agree with the statement “pushing your children to be successful in everything they do is important.”

In advertising and marketing the role of technology in connecting different parts of the family, different generations of the family, is a familiar focus. What’s interesting in your research is how the medium of print came to the forefront.

Yes that came through in multi-generational household.

Finally any thoughts on how this will evolve, any patterns we see non-traditional households filtering through to traditional families?

We did a point-in-time study, which was the depth we went to. I think certainly brands and companies are catching up. One of clients, Royal Caribbean the cruise line, their latest ships (the Quantum Class) are being launched being with multi-generational family staterooms, because they understand there’s this increase in multi-generational families who might want to go on vacation together. And they are looking to provide rooms and services to cater to that trend.


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