Claire Hollands, CEO at MullenLowe UK, is a passionate agency leader focused on creativity, growth and change management. We had the pleasure of hearing her point of view on the portrayal of modern parenting in advertising and how the industry can improve.
How has the depiction of parenthood in advertising evolved?
In 2002, my Agency team at the time, produced a ‘controversial’ McDonald’s ad, which told a story of divorced parents. In a slice of life story, a boy takes advantage of his parents living separately by getting each of them to buy him a McDonald’s. It received 103 complaints for making light of single-parent situations. Twenty years on, the John Lewis Christmas ad tells the story of a foster dad preparing for the arrival of his daughter in a way that is both charming and poignant. I reference this, as sometimes, it’s easy to forget the progress we have made in this space. The challenge remains where next? Could the work be more diverse? Yes. Could it be more inclusive? Yes. Progress has been made. It’s our job to keep pushing.
How are agencies and brands adapting ad comms to inclusivity around parenting?
Being a parent is the hardest and most rewarding job all in one. Whilst I get the need for brands to be aspirational, ‘winning’ as a parent can sometimes be about the small stuff, being comfortable with chaos or admitting the fact it’s just hard work. For me, that is what inclusive parenting is all about – no wrongs, no rights. Survival, at times, can be winning. A brand, that is really delivering for me on this, is the Tommee Tippee work #TheTruthIs and #TheBoobLife. Both spots show a very real and inclusive take on being a parent. The work is raw, relatable, and insightful, making it a brand I would turn to. Where I think we still have room to grow is showing inclusivity around an LGBTQI parenting as part of the norm.
In what ways does your role as a parent inform your work?
I have a 5-year-old and 2-year-old so life at home is full on. The week is a juggle, but for me it’s a juggle that works – most of the time. Apart from making me ruthless around my diary(!), having kids has given me greater empathy and perspective on what really matters. It’s shown me the importance of partnership (my husband does as much around the kids as me) and how important it is to constantly reassess the situation to see what’s working and what’s not. All of that I apply to my work life.
Post Covid, the rules of work have also changed. As a Mum and CEO, I have a responsibility to carve out a path for the next generation, so they can make it all work. To help with this, we have core hours 10-4pm and two days WFH, plus policies like enhanced shared parental leave to match our maternity leave, enhanced paternity leave and a parent support group. As ever, the important piece here is not the policies themselves but living by them. It’s why you’ll often see me rushing out the door for pick up.
What are some areas regarding parenthood that you feel could use more visibility in advertising?
Anyone that has kids, has probably watched Motherland. It’s relatable, honest, funny, and hugely popular. I think this is an underplayed sweet spot in advertising, which done in the right way can be extremely powerful. This is why, I love the new IKEA work ‘Proudly Second Best’. The spots, show kids IKEA products being made redundant as they are replaced by Mum or Dad. Whether it’s the empty cot as a baby is asleep on Mum or an empty highchair as a kid sits on Dad’s lap and then drops food on all over him, we have all been there.
Legal guardians can play a significant role in the lives of children who are no longer with their birth parents. How can brands balance the importance placed on these other parental figures in their messaging?
I have already touched on the John Lewis work as an example of showing a more inclusive lens on parenthood. Just as legal guardians play significant roles in the lives of children, extended family members often do too. With the reality of child-care costs being the third most expensive in Europe, many families can’t survive without Grandparents or other family members stepping in to cover pick-up’s, school holidays etc. I would love to see more work that focusses less on nuclear families and recognizes extended families and the importance they play in every-day family life.