The Modern Family


The Leave It To Beaver family model is, for better or worse, a thing of the past. Over the past sixty years, as cultural norms have become more liberalized, family structures have changed as well, giving rise to a plethora of new household types. Even over the past decade or so, these changes have been quite remarkable, as borne out by the results of the 2010 census. Between 2000 and 2010, for example, there was a 28% increase in American households headed by interracial couples; a 30% increase in multi-generational households (that is, those with three or more generations of a family living together under the same roof); a 39% increase in households headed by unmarried opposite sex couples (57.5% of which reported incomes of $50,000 or higher); and a stunning 80% increase in households headed by same sex couples (55.7% of which reported incomes of $75,000 or higher).

As marketers, it is incumbent upon us to realize that we are no longer attempting to sell goods to the stay-at-home wife with her 3.7 children (who, if June Cleaver is any indication, thought it was practical to cook in heels!), but instead must reach out to such “non-traditional” consumers as the stay-at-home dad (or dads), the semi-retired grandparent, and the single, unwed working mom. Successful companies will adapt their messaging to appeal to these and other emerging demographic categories, thereby capturing the brand loyalty of the next generation of consumer. Stated differently, the new normal in America is the Modern Family– a fact that we, as marketers, simply can not choose to ignore.

Source: macys.comMacy’s is an excellent example of an organization expanding its marketing message to reach and resonate with the ever-evolving modern family unit. For example, for Father’s Day, Macy’s has executed an advertisement campaign on Chicago’s subway system featuring father-son models of diverse racial backgrounds, reflecting the increase in multiracial families in America. The company has also stated a “Pride & Joy Nationwide” initiative and, in recognition of LGBT Pride Month, participates in parades and festivals throughout the country. By undertaking these initiatives, Macy’s has broadened its marketing strategy to directly appeal to two growing segments of the modern American family, wanting customers not only see themselves represented in the company’s promotional materials, but also to feel supported by the company’s culture as a whole.


J.C. Penney is also doing a noteworthy job of adapting its marketing campaigns to account for the new normal in American family life. In May, in recognition of Mother’s Day, J.C. Penney featured a real-life lesbian couple and their children in its catalogue. When this resulted in complaints from traditionalists still wed to the outdated Leave It To Beaver norm, the company issued the following non-apologetic statement: “As J.C. Penney focuses on becoming America’s favorite store, we want to be a store for all Americans. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we’re proud that our May book honors women from diverse backgrounds who all share the heartwarming experience of motherhood.” The company subsequently featuring another same-sex couple and their children in its June catalogue, in recognition of Father’s Day. J.C. Penney understands that households headed by same-sex couples are the wave of the future, and that, notwithstanding the retrograde opposition of some traditionalists, it must appeal to this new customer base if the company is to continue to thrive.

In short, the American family has changed, and companies must recognize this fact when designing and implementing their advertising campaigns, because engaging the diversity of modern-day America will be key to successfully capturing the brand loyalty of emerging demographic segments of the population. Just as we now no longer think it is normal to cook in heels, we must also recognize that it is no longer appropriate to market our products exclusively to the stay-at-home homemaker.

Do you feel your modern family isn’t being portrayed in the advertising world? What ways do you think brands could better reach the diverse, progressive consumer of today?

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