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Gen X moms take back purchasing power from kids

Kids marketers are going to have to work a lot harder to get their products and brands past a more vigilant gatekeeper - the Gen X mother. Making up more than 66% of U.S. moms, this new breed of matriarch comes armed with a more traditional sense of family values and a stricter consumer approach that demands respect.
June 1, 2004

Kids marketers are going to have to work a lot harder to get their products and brands past a more vigilant gatekeeper – the Gen X mother. Making up more than 66% of U.S. moms, this new breed of matriarch comes armed with a more traditional sense of family values and a stricter consumer approach that demands respect.

To find out what makes this modern mom tick, Cincinnati, Ohio-based marketing firm WonderGroup and Miami University assistant professor Dr. Sabrina Neely spent last year conducting a joint study of 4,400 moms with kids ages zero to 18.

According to the Millennium Mom Segmentation Model’s findings, the Gen X mother is radically different from Baby Boomer moms, the first generation of working mothers who were much more likely to fulfill their kids’ material demands out of guilt for not being around more. Dubbed the ‘give-in’ mom by youth marketer Ken Strottman, founder of Irvine, California-based Strottman Inc., Boomer mothers shopped impulsively, responded to kids’ requests, and allowed their children to have substantial influence over the selection of meals and treats.

But today’s moms ages 24 to 41 have taken back the power and now control roughly 80% of household purchases. They engage in purposeful shopping, seek to maintain a higher level of discipline over their kids, enjoy traditional maternal roles like cooking, and believe strongly in active parenting. WonderGroup CEO and founder Tim Coffey says the new mom will put family togetherness first, and strives for long-term enrichment over short-term gratification.

Strottman lays out the keys to effectively connecting with the Gen X mom thusly: Give her information and tools to decide what’s best for her family; help her be a better parent (because she wants to be so different from her own parents, she sometimes lacks confidence in her own parenting abilities); and show respect for her children. ‘A full 50% of 12- to 17-year-olds will now leave a store if the service is bad, and this reflects mom’s influence,’ he says, explaining that Gen X mothers are teaching their kids that retail stores should cater to them, and good service should be rewarded with loyal patronage.

WonderGroup’s study goes one analytical step further to break down the Gen X mothers into six sub-categories: less, moderately and very permissive or restrictive (see charts). Coffey predicts that kids marketers will focus the bulk of their efforts on reaching the R3 moms, representing 22% of the test group and boasting the highest level of income. But R3s are tough nuts to crack because they resent commercial influences on their children, are anti-materialistic and watch little TV, choosing instead to subscribe to myriad magazines from Forbes to Cooking Light. An R3 is also very educated and is most likely to read the health labels on food.

Despite being finicky, R3 moms will spend money on brand names if they represent quality. And Coffey believes marketing that allows this kind of mother to decide what’s special about a product will work, citing a recent McDonald’s ad for white-meat chicken McNuggets as an effective example. The 30-second TV spot shows a class of seven- and eight-year-old kids discussing the necessity of and drawbacks involved in changing the formula for McNuggets, something they already liked. But after they try the new product out, one of the kids declares that ‘change is good.’ This ad appealed to the R3 mother’s health issues because white meat is lower in fat and calories than dark meat. Coffey says this connection was a coup for the fast-food chain, given that R3 moms make the fewest trips to McDonald’s of the test group. Permissive mothers and those who wish they could spend more on their children also responded positively to the ad because it emphasized the food item’s affordability and showed kids enjoying eating it.

A recent series of print ads for infant equipment manufacturer Evenflo is also on Coffey’s kudos list for scoring high with every type of Gen X mom. One ad features a picture of a baby reading a novel and the tagline ‘Why do Evenflo products just seem smarter?’ Coffey says these ads drew in permissive mothers because the kid looked ‘cute’ doing adult things. But the campaign also scored with R3s and R1s, who believe developing a child’s intellectual potential is a priority, be it for the kids’ benefit or to make themselves look good. The ‘give-in’ nature of the Boomer mom has been passed down to 40% of Gen Xers. Here’s how the cards stack up on the more easy-going side of WonderGroup’s maternal fence.

Very Permissive (P1) – 7%

* Very responsive to kids’ demands

* Self-focused

* Lower incomes stretched to afford non-essentials

* Conspicuous and impulsive consumers

* Brand name-oriented

* 65% non-white

* Highest percentage of single moms (29%)

* Light users of media, except daytime TV

Moderately Permissive(P2) – 9%

* Anticipate kids’ needs and desires

* Family-centric

* High percentage of stay-at-homes

* Middle to low income

* 62% non-white

* Average to light media users who like parenting magazines and family TV shows

Slightly Permissive (P3) – 24%

* Collaborate and teach kids by explaining rules
and offering choice

* Relatively responsive to kid requests

* Highest percentage of moms working full-time

* Middle to upper income

* 70% white

* 66% married

* Heavy users of all media

* Conscious of health and nutrition

*Most politically active

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