On Friday, I got the typical long list of emails in my personal mailbox. Coupons for this, a sale here, a deal there. All normal mail. Scroll. Scan some more. Click a few that look good. Then I stopped.
“Don’t forget to call your mom on Mother’s Day!”
Before I go any further, let me clarify: I’m not a very sentimental person. I don’t get mushy about these holidays. You won’t see me on Facebook talking about my lost relatives or memorials. We all lose people and we all grieve in different ways. Even in private, I’m not one to go on about anniversaries of lost loved ones. Maybe that’s not always good, but it’s how it is. I’ve had to get over deaths from a pretty early age, starting with my first husband the day before my 21st birthday, so I think that’s sort of shaped how I handle things. Not unlike kids who grow up without parents for other reasons, it changes how you view relationships and your level of independence.
Still though…”Don’t forget to call your mom on Mother’s Day!” … it struck me. I clicked on it, and of course, it was selling a product and using Mother’s Day to push it. This holiday, like many others, is heavily commercialized, but let’s have some sensitivity. It’s not as easy as maybe Easter or Christmas, where someone can just choose to not celebrate the holiday or they don’t due to differing religious beliefs. Mother’s Day is a holiday that you still can choose to celebrate, but sometimes, the choice is taken away from you. For people like me, who haven’t had a mother in many years, we’ve had a lot of years to ignore tacky marketing promos but this one just stood out.
All for the intent of pushing a product on me, this brand in turn alienated me…and I’m guessing many others, too. I could have called them out on social, I could have emailed them to tell them how I felt, but instead, I just unsubscribed myself from their email list. Chances are they knew before hitting the send button on that promo that it could land in the inbox of others without moms and decided it was a risk worth taking. Or, maybe they really didn’t think it through, but either way, it’s not a company I choose to do business with anymore. It’s not the same scale, but the mattress company who posed two mattresses as the Twin Towers and based a commercial on the “towers” falling had a fallout of their own to deal with. Sometimes ads really just need to be thought through thoroughly, all the way down to the subject line.
Marketing is necessary — it’s the field I work in — but there’s a way to do it without throwing away some for the better good of the rest. Before you craft your headline, stop and think about it. Reminding people without moms to call their mom is going to do more than just stick with some of us; it’s going to outright upset some people.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a mom, as in almost 23 years now. I was 7.5 months pregnant with my third child, my younger daughter, rushing around to try to find a maternity dress that fit a funeral but was within my very slim budget. My mom had been ill since I was nine, and my childhood, as a result, was nowhere near typical. I grew up being a caretaker to an extent, and by the time I was in my later 20’s, she was in residential care due to lack of lucidity and other health issues resulting from the damage from brain cancer. By the time she passed, I was used to not having a mother.
That’s not meant to ellicit sympathy or be depressing; it’s just how it was. I didn’t grow up with a nurturing mom boosting my confidence or mother-daughter time. I grew up cleaning the house and looking forward to moving out. When I was pregnant with my first baby, I didn’t have the pampering mom trying to help. I didn’t have someone to ask questions when I felt weird or was worried about labor and delivery. I didn’t know what it was like to have a mom come care for me while I recuperated from a c-section. When my first marriage ended in divorce, I didn’t have anyone to help boost my spirits or to listen to me rant. I learned how to reach out to friends. They were the ones who came to see me when I had babies, to take me out when I needed to get a night out from single parenthood, to send the kids little gifts or to be there when I needed a listening ear that otherwise might have been a mom.
Being a mom who has no mom is weird, but I’m lucky that I’ve built a support system of friends. My husband’s been an ear for 23+ years now, and I’m close with all my kids, so I don’t feel ‘mom-less.’ It’s been so long since I had a normal mom-daughter relationship, as the daughter, that I no longer remember what it’s like. I was nine when I last had it, and that was so long ago, I’m not even sure what it was like then. When your parents die, people are all up in your business to help you, but when they’re sick or just not the nurturing type due to their own issues, you don’t get that help. I didn’t want sympathy, then or now, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t times that I wanted a hug, a boost of confidence or just a “You’ll be okay” in a way only a mom can do. (I’m lucky that I have a wonderful mother-in-law at least!)
So, marketers, when it’s a holiday celebrating someone — Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, even Grandparents Day — remember that your promotional mails are reaching people who don’t have the opportunity to call a parent. They don’t have anyone to visit on Mother’s Day. It’s not unlike those breakfasts they have at school, the ones where you bring your grandparent or dad or something. Not everyone has these people in their life, and not everyone has a stand-in either. We’re so sensitive about so many things, why not these?
“Don’t forget to call your mom on Mother’s Day!” Most of us don’t need that reminder, even if we have a mom. Don’t use a holiday, or a crisis, or a tragedy, to push your product. Build your brand community, your loyal followers, the right way. And that’s not it.