Kids are serious cool. Pictures of Kate Winslet, Jamie Oliver or David Beckham pushing buggies have become the new paparazzi currency.
To many 21st-century parents it matters that their child gets the niftiest nappies and is seen dressed in D&G, not M&S.
With baby products worth more than £2 billion, and children into their teens continuing to make a significant dent in the family budget, it's unsurprising that competition for the parental wallet is strong. It's also a naturally frenetic marketplace, with advertisers looking to reach wave upon wave of new parents in permanent launch mode.
A new baby doesn't just mean nappies and mashed carrot, graduating to smocked dresses and sensible lace-ups. Baby wipes didn't exist ten years ago. They now represent a £136 million market. The organic phenomenon has changed the face of pre-packaged children's food and companies such as Organix or Hipp offer a reassuring alternative to roux sauces for a generation of busy working mothers, the same mothers who may succumb to an item of couture from children's ranges now on offer from the likes of Burberry and Dior.
Grown-up brands have also cottoned on to the pulling power of children. Cars, financial services, retailers, even mobile phone companies are targeting parents.
You only have to type "baby" and "advice" into your internet search engine to unearth a parallel universe of parent talk, much of it coming from branded sites: huggies.com, pampers.com or Tesco.com/babyandtoddlerclub.
The biggest-spending advertiser targeting parents is Procter & Gamble, which owns Pampers. Pampers comes in Nielsen Media Research's top ten consumer brands in the world and, with hot competition from brands such as Kimberley Clark's Huggies, there's a lot at stake. P&G spends more than £12 million on reaching parents. Although the biggest slice of that goes on TV, there's a chunk reserved for direct marketing and an even larger one for the specialist press.
The specialist parenting media include some of the most unusual channels to the consumer. When a mother-to-be goes for her first hospital scan she is given an Emma's Diary, which, along with discreet advertising, carries a coupon for free branded goodies for parents, distributed through Tesco. The company behind Emma's Diary is Lifecycle Marketing. According to Lifecycle's media sales director, Teresa Harris: "Advertisers will spend a lot of money getting brands in mums' hands at the right time."
The original parental goody bag was designed by a company called Bounty.
New mums get a bumper pack of samples hand-delivered to the maternity ward bedside just hours after giving birth. The managing director of Bounty, Simon Williamson, says that despite a decline in the birth rate, parents are spending more on fewer children or, as he puts it: "It was a numbers game, now it's about quality. The market has definitely grown." Bounty, which has been in the market since 1959 and has won the confidence of health professionals, can provide an inside track for advertisers.
The same advertisers offer a lucrative prospect for the specialist pregnancy and mother and baby press. Sally O'Sullivan is the editorial director at Highbury House, which publishes Pregnancy and Baby & You magazines.
She echoes Williamson in saying that the declining birth rate "is not incredibly relevant, because there may be fewer babies, but there are more parents indulging more time, money and effort on their offspring".
Emap publishes Mother & Baby and Pregnancy & Birth. The ad director on Mother & Baby, Sam Vernon, says that the advertiser base has broadened as more mainstream brands become interested in targeting mothers. "In the past year, we have won much more brand, non-core business, such as Pentax, the Woolwich building society, Hovis, Dove and Thomson Holidays."
Although it's harder to quantify the parental spend on post-three-year-old children, there is a growing number of titles targeting parents of post toddlers, despite coverage of parental issues in the nationals and in mainstream women's magazines such as Good Housekeeping.
Junior magazine has been talking to the parents of more discerning toddlers and young children up to the age of eight for the past five years. It describes itself as "The world's finest parenting magazine" and is known by certain parents as the Harper's & Queen of parenting titles. The publisher of Junior, Chris Taggart, claims that it's the only ABC1 title in the market. "It's been a challenge to sell the parenting market to advertisers," he says. "There's still an image of parenting magazines as a bit dreary, depressing and downmarket."
There are plenty of fashion houses wanting to advertise their children's couture in the pages of Junior, and Taggart finds himself competing for European budgets with the Italian title Vogue Bambini. "Parents are settled down, having fewer children and lavishing more attention on them," he says.
Fathers are also spending more time with their children. And now dads have been put on the publishers' agenda. First with the Government-backed Dad magazine distributed in antenatal clinics and, more recently, with the launch of FQ magazine. With a cover price of £2.99, and distribution through WH Smith, the first issue of the quarterly came out in May of this year.
"There's a whole Daddy Cool atmosphere," the head of FQ's publishing house, 3D Media, Damion Quera, says. "More women now work and the balance of power has shifted."
FQ could be delivering advertisers an interesting audience of 25- to 42-year-old men with a conscience. The first issue contains ads from Land Rover, Siemens mobile and Vodafone as well as the more usual Avent, Philips Baby Monitor and Nurofen for Children. Quera claims to have had so much interest that he's had to turn away mainstream advertisers for the first issue.
The BBC is about to enter the fray with the relaunch this autumn of a magazine called Parentwise, targeting parents of children to the age of 12. The title began as a local information sheet for parents in London. "It took on a life of its own," the managing director, Pamela Janson-Smith, says. "There's tremendous advertiser loyalty," she claims, with the title's advertisers including Mark Warner holidays, Oilatum cream and the allergy treatment Piriton.
An additional advantage for the BBC - and for concerned advertisers - is that a magazine for parents bypasses the controversial area of advertising to children. Of course, for the baby market, it's an irrelevance but, as those precious little ones grow out of Pampers and into Toys R Us, it becomes a hot potato.
TOP 10 SPENDERS ON ADVERTISING TO PARENTS
Total Press TV Mail
pounds +/- % pounds pounds pounds
000s 02-03 000s 000s 000s
Procter & Gamble 12,677 96.20 734 10,844 567
NSPCC 7,649 113.70 600 3,438 2,484
Johnson & Johnson 7,162 -20.30 295 6,859 -
Kimberly Clark 6,608 -30.70 640 5,390 126
Toys R Us 4,170 4.50 1,906 2,215 19
Unicef 2,871 35.40 56 66 2,537
World Villages for Children 2,395 144.60 - - 2,395
Save the Children Fund 2,320 49.80 314 599 1,343
Barnardos Charity 2,045 8.60 819 31 847
Wyeth Nutrition 1,868 1.70 173 1,694 -
Total 95,592 14.40 27,630 36,379 19,993
Source: Nielsen Media Research.