Food advertising shifts focus from kids to parents

LONDON - After years of ignoring parents in favour of their children, brands, particularly in the food sector, have found that legislation and growing opposition to advertising to the latter means they are being forced to open a dialogue with mothers and fathers.

Food advertising shifts focus from kids to parents

In a shift of strategy, Burger King has launched its first campaign to explicitly target mothers, while McDonald's is overhauling its Happy Meal toys to push an educational message among parents (Marketing, 2 July).

Coca-Cola, too, has recognised the need to develop a relationship with mothers and has shifted its focus to promote healthy, active lifestyles, as its products have been removed from schools and TV ads aimed at children curtailed.

However, such strategies are not without pitfalls. While Nestle's latest campaign for Milkybar still features its brand icon the Milkybar Kid, the brand has been forced to dispense with its explicit child--focused ads in favour of a more gentle approach. The result is a rather fey-looking 'Kid' riding through a peaceful woodland scene, which seems to have had little positive impact on its declining share of the chocolate market.

Craig Mawdsley, joint head of planning at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, warns that those brands that do shift strategy toward parents must be certain they have nothing to hide as they will be under far greater scrutiny. 'I think it adds an extra dimension - you need to take the essence of the brand, but serve it up with greater depth.' According to Mawdsley, this is something his agency has done for Walkers by retaining Gary Lineker as the brand spokesman, but adapting the message away from children toward a healthier focus on the lower fat and salt content of its products.

'The message that you give parents is the flipside of the one that you have been telling their children. You just need to ensure that the message is robust enough to stand up to analysis,' he adds.

Little Dish has targeted parents exclusively since it launched in 2006, despite producing a range of food products for children up to the age of seven. Jane Hunter, the company's head of marketing, says that a big part of her strategy is to focus on new parents so that they buy the brand from the birth of their children and continue to use it as they grow up.

She contrasts this with her earlier experience at Quaker. 'Kids marketing has historically been quite challenging - it is about trying to find "the next big thing", which is why brands have traditionally tied with film companies. Marketing to parents is much more insight-driven.'

Little Dish has focused on community marketing, supplemented by press ads, driven by the insight that mothers can feel guilty about not having the time to properly prepare food for their children and promote Little Dish as a solution.

R&R Foods' Fab lollies also faced the challenge of switching its focus from children to parents, and, despite having only a limited budget, it managed to scoop a Marketing Society award in the brand revitalisation category.

The brand had to win acceptance from mothers and did this by drawing on the insight that they viewed their children's bedrooms as the place where their offspring were safest. Experiential events focused on this, while the advertising reminded parents of their own childhood, playing on the nostalgia aspect of the brand, which launched in 1967.

As a growing number of brands get to grips with the challenge of targeting parents, they must also heed the more complicated rules this entails and ensure that their brand proposition is credible.