Shari Reichenberg, Regional President at RAPP East, shares how her experiences as a parent shapes her inclusive approach to work, and sheds light on the modern challenges Millennial parents are faced with today.
How has the depiction of parenthood in advertising evolved?
Advertising has certainly come a long way from depicting parenthood from an outside-in view of the “perfect mother” who spends her days cleaning her beautiful home and thoughtfully preparing her kids’ snacks and laundry. In recent years, we’ve seen more honest and realistic portrayals of parenting, from the presence of breastfeeding and postpartum bodies, to references to maternal mental health, to the presence of dads or co-parents, to generally acknowledging the ways in which parenting is often difficult. Saucony’s “Marathon That Never Ends,” and Nike’s tribute to the “toughest athletes” that launched its maternity line last year are examples of this last point.
How are agencies and brands adapting ad comms to inclusivity around parenting?
In some respects, better representation in advertising is the lowest-hanging fruit for agencies and brands. We’re beginning to see single parents, LGBTQ+ parents, dual-income homes, foster/step/adoptive parents or Godparents, blended families, mixed race families, and so on. This is a great first step, but there’s also a step-change needed in content and tone to be more inclusive to the realities of today. When will we see “dad” as the default parent, or ad comms depicting parenting as just one of many identities that a parent has of themselves? When will we stop assuming that all parents share the same priorities or views of the ideal household?
In what ways does your role as a parent inform your work?
I have a neurodiverse family, and as a unit we celebrate each of our unique interests and accomplishments, while also prioritizing and accommodating each other’s specific needs. As a mother, I have learned to “unlearn” assumptions and expectations for how my kids will respond to common situations or environments that many neurotypical families don’t have to think much about.
This mindset absolutely drives my approach as an agency leader. I respect our teams’ unique ambitions, fears and concerns as legitimate, and support re-thinking teams or the ways we approach our work when our people need us to do so. I believe empowering authenticity and supporting mental health are priorities, so we’re conscious of the way we speak and listen to each other. I know that great ideas can come from anywhere, so we ensure our teams are inclusive so anyone can speak up. And I don’t default to the status quo or precedence when we bump into a challenge: I believe there’s always a way to build a solution that best matches the situation and the people involved.
RAPP is known for “standing up for individuality,” and this ethos is synergistic with both my leadership style and my unique role as a parent, which are inherently intertwined.
What are some areas regarding parenthood that you feel could use more visibility in advertising?
When I was thinking about these questions, I saw a statistic that 93% of moms don’t think traditional advertising accurately represents their parenting experience, and another from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media that women are shown being funny in 3% of ads and are 48% more likely to be shown in the kitchen than men – so, obviously, there is a lot that needs to change and many areas that need more visibility. To do this, we’ll need to have more women in creative leadership positions, as well as directors, editors, producers, and so on.
One interesting and gender-neutral area that comes to mind is that advertising needs to better shift to reflect the needs of Millennial parents. As today’s 25–40-year-olds, it’s reasonable to think that most parents of today’s young children fit into the Millennial generation. Generally speaking, Millennial parents are more likely than Gen X parents to value life experiences over traditional education, to embed activism into their household’s lives, to fear that Big Tech companies are eroding their ability to decide what is best for their child, and to aspire to have extremely close relationships with their children. If brands don’t adjust their messages accordingly, they won’t resonate
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?
As with other aspects of inclusivity, representation is always a good first step. As advertisers we have so much power over what the public sees, and with that, a great responsibility to depict people as they really are.
But I actually thought about this question from another perspective, which is that of brands as employers who also have the power and responsibility to lead the way in terms of how they think about their staff who have become legal guardians. Legal guardians are parents in every sense of the responsibility and identification to the children they are stepping in to raise. As employers, brands can and should include legal guardians in all of the policies relating to family leave, insurance coverage, flexible work schedules, and transitions out of and back into the business that they otherwise offer to parents.