If there's one universally accepted truth about contemporary moms, it's that they are not the same as the mothers we grew up with. Whether you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer or Millennial, the woman who raised you differs significantly from today’s moms.
This shift has left entire categories reeling. As parental concerns about health, natural ingredients, and ethical sourcing have increased, CPG has been hit particularly hard. Many brands that had enjoyed near-domination of their categories for years have found they can no longer coast on that success. Now brands are trying everything to engage moms: New product introductions, rebranding legacy products, and corporate social responsibility initiatives are just some of the attempted fixes.
Success has been mixed. Simply revamping packaging or running campaigns that pander to this new generation of mothers can't deliver long-term brand success.
But there's something that can: a System 1 approach to advertising to moms, with a MAYA twist.
System 1 has become a big buzz-phrase in the marketing industry — and deservedly so. The concept, developed by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, posits that decision-making is not entirely based on conscious, rational thought. People use their intuition, often based on cemented habits and emotional connections formed in childhood, to make fast, often-automatic decisions. This processing (System 1) is much more influential than conscious reason, which is rooted in hard facts and reflective consideration (System 2).
The MAYA Rule, coined by industrial designer Raymond Leowy in the mid-1900s, dovetails perfectly with System 1. MAYA stands for "Most Advanced Yet Acceptable" and asserts that people are most drawn to new things that are already familiar, rather than totally original. Consequently, when introducing a new campaign or product, building on what consumers already know and associate with your brand — and adding just enough newness — works better than inflicting the completely unfamiliar on them.
Many brands are trying to win moms over with radically new campaigns, disposing of valuable brand assets that have had countless millions of dollars and years of development invested in them. They would see more ROI, both short-term and in the future, by using those brand-linked equities to strengthen their affinity with today's moms.
Some brands, whether they realize it or not, are capitalizing on both System 1 and MAYA principles.
Noteworthy examples include Cheetos’ character Chester Cheetah, first used by the brand in 1977. Still hard at work today, our research shows 85% of consumers strongly associate him with Cheetos. Similarly, the characters introduced by M&M’s decades ago are still popular today, and have even spawned M&M’s retail stores. In both cases, the familiar characters have helped launch multiple line extensions. M&M’s even removed the characters from ads years ago, fearing consumers would tire of them. Instead, consumers demanded to know where they went.
Elsewhere in CPG, Campbell has blended System 1 and MAYA with a unique approach integrating historical assets into new advertising. The company phased out its "Mmm Mmm Good" slogan in recent years, switching to "Made for Real, Real Life." One ad showed a mom saving gourmet recipes on Pinterest while watching a cooking show on TV, then making an Instagram-worthy vignette of her microwaved Campbell's Soup, using her phone to share it online. But recently, Campbell, perhaps recognizing the value of their discarded slogan, has a new series of commercials using the "Mmmm" sound effects throughout. Recent research we conducted shows that 75% of consumers strongly associate the "Mmm Mmm Good" line with Campbell, so retaining it was the smart thing to do.
Why are so many brands trashing valuable brand elements that could be lucratively integrated into advertising with a MAYA approach, while appealing to moms' System 1 thinking? It could be as simple as a new CMO's desire to put her own mark on the creative, or agencies' eagerness to do things they think are "bold" and "innovative." But the true innovation lies in developing ads that tap into sophisticated neurological processes and the human requirement for new things to come bundled with what is comfortingly recognizable. These needs aren't exclusive to moms, but brands that stand the best chance of winning over contemporary mothers will capitalize on them at every opportunity.