Today’s family is connected and yet disconnected, and being a father has new challenges. In the ’70s and ’80s we had a ton of freedom, phones were only in the house, and privacy extended as far as the telephone cord would extend. We had freedom to roam — “just come back before its dark” was the summer theme.
The concept of advertising was a controlled thing in our house. Dad could dictate what we watched and were exposed to: we had channel 4, 5, 8,11 and 39. If you wanted to watch westerns all day, you could. Videos didn’t exist yet, and vinyl and tapes were our iTunes equivalents.
The challenges of parenting were primarily focused on teaching life lessons, instilling work ethics, social engineering — and keeping us from sticking nickels up our nose.
Today’s children have it easy, yet not so easy. The lessons that we as parents teach can also apply to marketing:
1. There is no forgiveness with digital, so be smart with your mistakes. Building social profiles is just part of our society now. Everything is archived somewhere, unlike when we were kids. You can’t pull pranks without it being on Youtube. Many marketers think like teenagers: it’s about faster and better, versus slowing down to move in smarter ways. You won’t learn that till you’ve banged your head a few times. Planning and consciousness of the long-term impact of your efforts does pay off, and not everything yields instant gratification.
2. You're only dumb if you’re lazy. In our day, there were excuses for not reading, as access to information/content was not equally distributed (urban, rural, third world). Today, information is endless and accessible to almost everyone. Today’s parents are more navigators than authoritarians, and dads are the information architects of the house. We are the spam filter, the privacy control, the security software and the gatekeeper to an active or inactive life (e.g., exercise). You must guide your kids’ learning and development, find sources of information you trust and learn how to apply it to your context.
3. You have no privacy. It’s critical that you teach children very early that there was a world before when the Internet wasn’t free, and all movies, music and games were paid for. It’s a hard concept to appreciate, but once they grasp that nothing is free in this world, outside of fresh air, they will understand the trade-offs of what they get in exchange for their information. This give/take is the essence of any brand relationship, creating persistent value exchanges. Imagine if I gave my kids candy every time I wanted them to do something? Same as free shipping or 40% off. It is no longer a reward, it’s a business requirement.
4. Don’t play in that neighborhood. No longer can you control the physical world that your child has access to. You can’t shut that off; all you can do is try to control how opinions are formed at an early age. Parenting is a form of classical conditioning, as is any brand marketing effort. Building early life scripts with children is important. Do they automatically hate Republicans, have gender bias, react to shocking news with bewilderment of why things like that would happen or have a sense of action (I want to do something about it)? While not as deep as a child’s mind, marketers must remember we are in the business of psychology, not a paper route (newspaper route, for those old enough to remember that).