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Research Shows Advertising Fails to Reflect Changing Family Dynamics

New research carried out by creative agency Folk Wunderman Thompson has highlighted the need for Irish brands to “adapt and accurately represent the evolving concept of ‘family’ to resonate with audiences, stay relevant and be more effective in an ever-changing world.”

According to the research, “in a rapidly changing social landscape, the typical Irish family has evolved into a dynamic and contemporary structure but brands and advertising has been slow to follow, as seen in public sentiment towards family  representation.”

The research explores several core themes including emerging family structures and evolving perspectives on parenthood, all of which show the enormous opportunity that lies ahead to cater for and talk to a much broader audience pool in a more meaningful way.

Speaking on the report findings, Laura Daley, Managing Director Folk Wunderman Thompson said, “This study has unequivocally shown that embracing diversity in advertising and marketing is not only good for society but also excellent for business,” says Laura Daley, managing director, Folk Wunderman Thompson.

“True, accurate representation opens doors to new markets, fosters consumer loyalty, and drives growth like never before. This not just a moral imperative; it is a strategic necessity in today’s business landscape. To connect with our audiences, it is not enough to be there; we must be there meaningfully. It’s about genuinely understanding and representing the multifaceted lives of our consumers,” she adds.

She adds that embracing diversity and challenging traditional stereotypes in advertising and marketing is not just a matter of social responsibility but also key to building stronger engagement and lasting connections with audiences.

According to Eimear Fitzmaurice, head of planning, Folk Wunderman Thompson and co-author of the report: “Storytelling based on the human experience, not labels, is our guiding principle. We recognise that all families, regardless of their structure, share universal themes of love, support, and connection.

“We have developed an agency tool, The Real Ireland Framework which is a game-changer for brands seeking authenticity to ensure we deliver a new standard of marketing and communication that reflects the real lives of Irish families. This framework isn’t just a model; it’s a commitment to showcasing the full spectrum of family structures and ensuring our campaigns resonate with the diversity that defines modern Ireland.”

Some of the key findings of The Family Fallacy Include the following:

Ireland’s Shifting Family Landscape

The traditional Irish family structure, which once dominated, now accounts for only 36% of Irish households, according to the Folk research.

“In its place, a rich tapestry of diverse family structures has emerged, including childfree couples, same-sex families, step-families, divorced parents, single parents, and more. Families in Ireland are no longer defined solely by blood or marriage.”

The research also notes that over half of adults consider some of their close friends as family while nearly 80% of people consider their pets as part of their family

Somewhat tellingly, over 40% of respondents believe families are poorly represented in marketing and advertising with this figure jumping to two-thirds of same-sex families and nearly half of divorced and blended families.

In addition only 38% of single parents feel that society recognises and appreciates their family role.

Breaking Stereotypes: A New Imperative for Brands

The Family Fallacy also reveals that more than 6 in 10 (64%) of people in Ireland believe the portrayal of family structures in advertising and marketing is stereotypical. This percentage increases for childfree families and same-sex families. “More than half of respondents (63%) believe brands should play a role in normalising non-traditional family structures, with this number climbing to 68% for single parent families,” the report notes.

“Brands and companies need to recognise that the conventional portrayal of family structures in advertising and marketing campaigns no longer resonates with today’s diverse society. For example, in Ireland, 1 in 4 families with children is a one-parent family. It is clear that a disconnect exists between the way brands depict family life and the reality experienced by their audience, the report says.

The War on Home 

The report also notes that “one of the most pervasive narratives in Ireland, and across Europe, is the rise of multigenerational living and co-living, a result of crippling housing prices and changing social dynamics and relationships. Ireland’s young adults and young families are currently suffering the realities of our housing crisis with rent and housing prices almost doubling in the last 10 years.

“With the average age of a homebuyer in Ireland now 39 years old, co-living and renting until late 30’s has now become the norm, causing a whole realm of new tensions and challenges about who runs the household and what the shared priorities are.”

The Role of Motherhood

The Family Fallacy also notes that while families change, the role of the mother has not yet evolved. Indeed some 63% of mothers feel that it is difficult to be a mother today, with 1 in 5 reporting feelings of burnout.

“The unequal distribution of household chores and parenting responsibilities remains a persistent issue, causing tension for over half of mothers.Usurprisingly, 73% of people in Ireland believe that becoming a mother makes career progression harder, while only 24% feel the same for men.”

Changing Role of Fatherhood

When it came to fatherhood, over half o those surveyed “believe that the portrayal of family structures in advertising and marketing is stereotypical. Furthermore, 75% of people agree that fathers today are more involved in their children’s lives, breaking free from traditional stereotypes and taking on more active parenting roles.”

A change is required

The report also highlights that changes are needed if advertising and marketing is to evolve to reflect the many changes which have taken place in Irish society.

According to the report, 61% of blended and divorced families believe brands should help normalise non-traditional family structures.

Single parents (60%) prefer brands and companies that understand their family life and needs. Over two-thirds of respondents appreciate brands and businesses that advocate for diversity and inclusion.

“Embracing a new normal for what and how the Irish family looks and acts should be a no-brainer,” it concludes.

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