Friday, May 2, 2008

Dear Madison Avenue, Please Don't Wish Me a Happy Mother's Day.

(Dear Readers, I am sorry but I must interrupt my usual letters to you so that I can address something to the fine people in the Advertising and Marketing world.)

Dear Madison Avenue,

Please don't wish me a Happy Mother's Day.

It's not that I don't appreciate the wishes. And I don't mean to be the "Ebenezer Scrooge" of Mother's Day. It's a perfectly lovely holiday.

But I am not a mother.

And it's not that I don't want to be. I personally do. But for now, I am not a mother.

So when I walk into your store, or open your e-newsletter, or receive your direct mail, please don't wish me a Happy Mother's Day.

Don't get me wrong. I love mothers. I admire the work and energy it takes to be a mother.
In fact, some of my best friends are mothers. But some are not. In fact, some of your girlfriends are probably not mothers either. Stop. Look around. Chances are about 50% of the women you know are not mothers. Especially since you live in a big city like New York.

Madison, or Ms Avenue if you prefer, just look at the US census report on fertility. In 2004 (the latest report) 45% of women up to the age of 44 were counted as "childless." (The number of women over the age of 44 who are non-moms is not recorded.) That's up from 44% in 2003. And 43% in 2001. So the numbers are growing. Year after year. After year.

For every Mom out there, there is a Non-Mom. Some by choice. Some yet to be. Some who just can't. None of these women want your Happy Mother's Day wishes. In fact, you are probably hurting some feelings along the way.

But Madison, you're a smart marketer. You can step away from the decades-old idea that moms are the most powerful spenders in the US. Perhaps at education and kids' necessities like diapers and milk they are. Sure. But women in general are the most lucrative consumers for marketers. And we've come a long way, baby. 85% of women make or influence the purchasing decisions in their household. The household, by the way, may be a family of four, or a single abode for one. For the first time, more women than men are buying cars, consumer electronics, homes and doing home renovations. And you might be surprised to hear that 50% of single women own their own homes.

Since the 1960's, when women were finally opening bank accounts in their own names, you have been focusing your marketing strategies on Mom since that is how you have traditionally identified "Woman." But it's 2008 and times have changed. Today, non-moms actually have greater purchasing power because they are not supporting children, because a greater portion of non-moms than moms are still in the workforce, and because they have more time for leisure and travel.

Which doesn't mean that non-moms don't love children. Non-moms have nieces and nephews, by relation or by choice, and other children in their lives that they love and embrace (and spoil!).

Madison, since you are a woman who works in advertising and marketing, you may have heard that I call this segment of women: PANKs (Professional Aunts, No Kids.) PANK is the New PINK. We are the fastest growing segment of affluent women in America - the women you should be focusing some really smart attention on.

So don't turn us off. Don't keep assuming all women are moms. Do better targeting and segmenting. Find the women who spend their discretionary income and time on the kids in their lives - and on themselves. We're here. We're listening. And we're ready to buy.

In the meantime, go ahead with your Mother's Day plans. I too wish all moms a beautiful day full of all the love and joy that motherhood brings.

But please, don't wish the rest of us a Happy Mother's Day.

Because the thing is, we're not moms.

Auntie Melanie Notkin


  1. You speak from the heart, and therefore for many other people out there! Thanks for being so open and honest.

  2. Sing it, sister! It's hard for marketers and advertisers to wrap their minds around the fact that not every woman within a certain age bracket is a Mom. I, too, wish all the Moms out there a wonderful, joyous Mother's Day... I'll be celebrating PANK day! :)

    Jane, Pinks & Blues

  3. Again, my Auntie friend, you speak to and for me! And here's another thing - I am NOT a mom, nor do I HAVE a mom anymore. So, the deluge of emails I am getting from Macy's, 1-800-FLOWERS, and other online retailers about what I can sent to mom get more and more irritating as each year passes since my mother died. I wish there was a filter or preference you could set for who you might give gifts to.

    My favorite email subject line is being saved for a blog entry of my own: Pamper your Mom in Woodland or wherever she is! (From 1-800-FLOWERS). Like I said in a recent tweet: What great customer service! They can deliver to the afterlife!

    Love ya, Auntie Melanie!

    Auntie Marilyn (aka @marlinex)

  4. Auntie Melanie, right on!

    I'm sick of Mother's Day ads as well. I also think that marketers need to learn how to pitch their audiences more accurately.

    As you know, I'm very frustrated by the recent ads I've been seeing on Facebook for egg donation. While I think egg donation is a wonderful thing, I think it's just the wrong place to be solicited for something so serious. I'd love to be a Mom someday, but not today (or in that manner).

    Thanks for speaking out for the PANKS (which I think you should trademark). You're brilliant! :)

    Auntie Laurie (@LaurieShuls)

  5. i really enjoyed the blog today as it hit home. you wrote w/such an honest voice & i could relate, as i'm sure so many of your friends can. i hope the mom's can understand this as well.

    keep up the great blogging.....

  6. I have to say, I love how you have expressed some of the things that I am thinking and feeling.

    Also, I was tickled to find that Jane from Pinks and Blues posted a comment. Jane, you don't know me, but you do know two of my best friends - the ladies behind Apples'n'Oranges.

    I am not a mom at the moment. Since the decision for me to become a mom is inextricably tangled with my Jason's decision to become a dad, I do not think that my non-mom status is likely to change. That is a choice I made. Personally, if I could have both (a relationship with my soul-mate AND children), I tend to think that I would. The fact is, I weighed the choices and determined that for me it was more desirable to be with this man who completes my life (much like a rich icing completes a decadent cake, you could live without it, but do you want to?) than to search for someone else to have children with. I purposely did not use the words "to have a family with," because my Jason and I ARE a family.

    Okay, I'm climbing off my soapbox now. Sorry for monopolizing the comment box.


  7. Yay to PANK! Melanie - thanks for a great post (as always). I hope all those retailers take heed!

    ps: Erin - I know one of the Apples n Oranges ladies too (small world). I love it!

  8. Hey Melanie -- Great post and funny how some direct marketers take a fire house to water the tulips this Mother's Day season. Traditional marketers need to understand "reach" has been replaced by "relationship."

    To this point, there is a really great article in this month's Fast Company that addresses how Barney's is working to perfect their relationship with their target customers and are finding the pay off in relationship marketing is much greater on return. (

    So on this note, and as a PANK, who bites her lip deleting every Mother's Day solicitation, as marketers it can't be about using a fire house, but a nice watering can to nurture and help each relationship you have grow responsibly and personally.

    Oddly enough, I just got a Hallmark e-mail wishing me a Happy Mother's Day too. Ack!
    So, when's Happy PANK Day!

    @MeHeather / @Viaspire / @Extraordinique

  9. Hello PANKs! And thanks for all your wonderful comments so far.

    MeHeatherD - I read that piece in FastCompany (my favorite magazine) and love your analogy with fire hose vs watering can on how best to nurture relationships with women. Marketers that find niche markets within the Women's Market will do best. Those that assume all women fall into that niche, wont.

    As far as an official Auntie Day? It's in the works.

    Auntie Melanie

  10. Hi Lovey - OK so I had a long comment all typed out earlier only to get to the "publish" button and found it didn't work on my phone. And now I can't remember my thoughts.

    But I completely see your side and I would be feeling exactly the same way. And even AS a mother, I really don't like being wished a happy Mother's Day from anyone other than my dear friends, family and husband/son. Strangers, cashiers, etc? It just annoys me, I'm a mother to my son and if it's not coming from him (which at under 3 it probably won't) it really doesn't have much meaning and to me is pointless. And marketers on the other hand piss me off with it even more since obviously they know nothing about me so I see it as a sick ploy to capitalize on the precious bond between my son and I. I get very protective of my boy, don't try to make money off of me because he's in my life.

    Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, I'm also a retailer. And I thought about sending out a newsletter for it but for reasons like this I get gun shy. I'm so worried about offending someone and talk myself out of it around any major holiday. Can't say Christmas, not everyone is a mother and even in my case being a mother I still get annoyed. I decide to just keep it general and a "oh did this generic discount newsletter get sent around Mother's Day, that must be a coincidence" but then I've been reading everything about the "relationship" vs. "reach" type debates and again feel like that's the wrong tactic. I'm a one person show when my kid is asleep, there is no way I can take the time to really figure out which of my customers are moms, will be moms, are trying to be moms, friends with moms, have estranged moms, etc. So as a retailer I feel a little stuck with my marketing efforts since I really do respect all of my existing and potential customers and would feel horrible if I were to offend someone as in this case. Long story short to say why I haven't sent out newsletters in a very long time :)

    I am looking forward to all I will learn from you about how best to show appreciation to my customers.

    - Mama C-ta (@mamacta on twitter)

  11. Crap that was long! Sorry, I just moved on in, didn't I?

  12. Wonderful post. Sure hope Madison Ave is listening in on your post and your community's comments. Now I would not be against a day that celebrates Aunties ;-)

  13. Great post. This reminds me of the diaper companies and formula manufacturers that continue to send samples and "well wishes" to women who have had the terrible experience of miscarriage. Of course, there is no proactive way for them to know...but boy can it send the wrong message.

    Marketers do have a real challenge and one solution may be to try to celebrate or touch as much as possible.

    So... for the diaper company. While they may not be able to stop a sample diaper from hitting the home of a mourning women, they can offer a page on the website where people can make a donation to plant a tree in memory of a pregnancy that was. Or DeBeers can suggest during this time of year that you should gift the women in your life for all of the loving and nurturing and listening they do for you, whoever you are to them.

    If the same company speaks to you as an Auntie - you may not mind so much that they also send an email wishing you a Happy Mother's Day. But no worries... soon enough they will have a Happy Auntie day email going out... just as soon as some Savvy Auntie we know gets around to changing the world with the advent of a new holiday. What marketer wouldn't love that?

  14. I hear your point. In their defense, their saying Happy Mother's Day is just a way of acknowledging the day, much like we write "Dear so and so" even if we do not feel that way about someone.
    As far as their marketing at you who is not a mother - Mother's Day marketing is not aimed at moms. It is aimed at those people who have moms, so they will buy and do stuff for their moms. Unless someone's mom has passed on, everyone has a mother. Some may not like their mothers, but that is not Madison Avenue's fault.

  15. I'm so glad a twitter friend pointed me to this post today.... as I dread the way the media will use Mother's Day as a news hook for stories all day long.

    Not only am I not a mother, I don't want to be reminded of mine right now. And I'm sure there are others in a similar position, but there is ZERO sensitivity to that, from both advertising and editorial sides of the media.

    Thanks for calling them out!

  16. I know there are many people out there who are not mothers and there is too much commercialisation of days like Mothers' Day but I have to disagree with your position.
    I am a mother and although my teenage kids are generally really good to me this is a special day for them to show a little extra appreciation for me. My mother passed away a few years ago but Mothers' Day always brings back special memories of my mother and of the special times we had together.
    Madison Avenue and any other street and shopping centre aim their marketing not at mothers but at those who have mothers. I can overlook the commercialism of these special days and you should too.

  17. Jane - I don't think that Savvy Auntie, or speaking for myself, are dishing Mother's Day. Rather we're saying that women who are aunts (by direct relationship or adopted) play an important role in nurturing our nieces and nephews too. We often add an "Auntie Mame" element that supplements mom's and dad's parenting. Sometimes we serve as the 'safe' adult to turn to that is family but not a parent. So it would be lovely to have an "Auntie Day." Or why not an uncle day too ;-) Nice recap about aunts on this post.

  18. Sorry I didn't mean my comment to sound that way. Go for it Aunties and Uncles and anyone else who looks out for others - young and old, big and little, male and female. Life should be a celebration with the friends and family who make it special.

  19. Titles wether mom, Aunt, single, married should be null and void. Being a PANK has allowed me alot of freedom in my life but still the joy of being with children (my one niece and nephew). The worth in watching myself grow as an individual is just as valuable as bringing up a child in this world. I certainly dont need a special day like Mothers Day to help me express my love to my mother or friends that are moms-that I do on an on going basis throughout the year in much more meaningful ways. So lets open up the marketing ads to women of all scenarios and celebrate womanhood overall!


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