29/08/2014 13:14 BST | Updated 28/10/2014 05:59 GMT

Fear and the Feminine Mystique


In her 1963 book, the Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan pointed out that most advertising and editorial aimed at women was written by men. Much of this content displayed women as mothers, content housewives, or anxious career women. Friedan accused advertisers of pinpointing issues of feminine anxiety and exploiting them to sell more products.

So far, so Mad Men. And you'd be forgiven for thinking that this sort of thing is confined to HBO dramas set in the 1950s and 1960s. But not quite.

The 'Better Together' campaign, which is arguing that Scotland should remain a part of the UK, produced an advert this week that feels like it's come straight out of a particularly boozy brainstorm circa 1963 featuring Don Draper.

The advert was no doubt tested and retested; focus groups will have informed the script, as will weeks of research. The woman's manner, the colour of her clothes, the type of kitchen; all will have been carefully thought through and analysed. But the execution is dire, lazily stereotyping a 'typical mum' uninterested in politics, and apparently unwilling or unable to find out for herself.

The ad also plays on those fears Friedan mentioned in the 60s. It features faintly sinister lingering shots of kids toys, as she discusses uncertainty and not gambling on her children's future.

Mums matter as a group of course. Yet as recent research from Saatchi & Saatchi found, talking to 'mums' as a generic catch-all category doesn't work. Mums are a diverse bunch. In fact only 23 percent are happy being called 'mum' by anyone other than their families and three in 10 agree they are 'me first and then mum'. Saatchi & Saatchi director of strategy Richard Huntington noted that when brands try to get chummy with mummy it 'feels as if we are trespassing on the name that children give their mothers.' There is no single template of a mum, and therefore there is no single way of appealing to them. Thinking of mums as a homogenous group is misguided.

A recent example from Fisher Price suggests a smart way brands could talk to mums. The toy brand's strapline is refreshingly open and optimistic: 'Discover your way'. There is no ready-made 'mummy mould' here; no Right way of doing things; no outmoded stereotyping. Instead it assumes mums (and kids) are capable of discovery, exploration and learning on their own. Crucially this process isn't a frightening thing - it's something to be cherished and embraced.