I know it seems like an obvious thing to write. We all know that marketers (a marketing term to describe a marketing professional) are savvy in near-supernatural ways and compassionate at saintly levels. Of course those skills are going to translate into some bad-ass parenting. But for all the accepted wisdom in a sentence like “Marketing has made me a better dad,” it really demands further explanation. And, being a writer at a marketing firm, I am the one to share this wisdom with everyone unfortunate enough to know me and click this link.
Okay, so marketing is all about finding the right way to say the right thing to the right people. And getting them to do whatever it is you want them to do—buy, believe, belong. Marketing is a thing because people want to be “sold.” They need to be convinced that they must have whatever you’re pushing.
And isn’t that what parents do? Everyday in countless ways we foist habits, ideas, rules, schedules, food, manners, education, and hygiene onto our little genetic echoes. When they don’t go along with our plans, we lose our shit. That’s okay. Marketing is here to help you.
First of all, you need to understand your audience. The clients I work with spend a significant amount of money on focus groups. This usually involves me getting on a plane with some ideas on cardboard. After I get off the plane, I’ll show those ideas to people of roughly the same age, who share some of the same characteristics as the people I really want to talk to. I’ll ask them what they think of these ideas. They’ll overthink the hell out of them and piss off the client. These wandering voyages into thought are like bobbing for apples, but a lot more pointless.
The good news for you: your kids are your target audience and I assume you don’t need to board a plane to see your kids. If you do, then you need more than marketing. Also, you can talk directly to your target—a group that’s only as big as your tolerance for pain. Talk to them. Share your ideas with them. Find out what the hell they want. And listen.
Still, chances are, you’re going to have to deal with tons of insane feedback. Over the years, I’ve had to listen to the random stakeholder (marketing term for “person”) tell me something that makes my words just dry up. I once had a client tell me that high school seniors might be turned off by the words “bachelor’s degree” that we were using on the cover of a brochure created solely to promote a new bachelor’s degree. So you could see why those words might be important. But this phone-voice was telling me “Well, I know it’s probably only 2% of the population, but there could possibly be some prospects (marketing term for “people”) who might not know what those words mean.” I could only listen as my brain crawled into its escape pod and launched to its happy place where it crash-landed and killed everyone. We ended up working around the words “bachelor’s degree” for a brochure about a bachelor’s degree. So everyone lost.
My kids are no less insane. Their demands are unreasonable. Their reactions can be bizarre at David Lynch levels. But whenever I hear grown people use their brains way too hard to find the words to say crazy things, it makes it a little easier to hear little people use their developing brains to wrestle with complicated emotions. So having the chocolate milk rejected in a tear-filled, plate-hurling rant because the straw was the wrong color suddenly seems appropriate: “Yes, the straw should have been blue! I’ll make the change immediately and get it back to you!” Through that filter, it’s much easier to understand.
Then there’s nothing left to do but find the right message. After listening and absorbing, it’s time to get crafting. We’ll find all kinds of ways to wriggle through the marketplace explaining how our clients are better than their competitors. We’ll zero in on the key demographic and woo them with sweet ear- and eye-love. We will raid their mailboxes, their radio, and every available ad space on the websites they visit with research-tested, bullet-proof dynamism. And then we’ll hope it all worked.
Same thing at home. We try to get the kids to do what we want them to do, but restraining them or immobilizing them doesn’t always work. So we need to convince them. And kids are just goddamn strange. They don’t always eat when they’re hungry, sleep when they’re tired, or take medicine when they’re sick. As adults, it makes no sense. If I had just spent a long day at the pool and let out a big yawn and Jill told me to go to bed my response would be in the form of a snore. But kids would rather collapse.
So at night we have to make the case for how important sleep is and how much they’ll need their energy for an even better tomorrow. With the current rate of escalation, I think we’re going to need to promise space travel very soon. In the morning , I can’t just give my 3 year-old a banana—that shit had better be a “monkey banana.” At lunch it’s not V8 Juice; it’s “Princess Juice” for Elsa or “Jedi Juice” for Ian. And I think when it’s time for medicine the story line is that it’s super-power serum. Sometimes all of this repackaging even works. When it does, I think it’s because deep down they know you care enough to lie right to their little faces.
But mostly you should just prepare for failure. Really. A lot of times, things don’t come out exactly as planned in marketing. Sure there are those successes stories, but any number of things can go wrong: we are forced to compromise into making a weak ad, we’ve produced a brilliant website—but the client isn’t going to do anything to send people to it, we did everything exactly as planned but we’re just not getting the results we hoped for. You can work and rework when possible, but at some point you just have to throw your hands up and put your pencils down. And accept imperfection.
Parenting is far worse. And it’s a job you’ll have for the rest of your life. You can’t quit. In those moments of failure, being a parent will leave you feeling frustrated and burnt out and unappreciated and remorseful. Your kids will fight your help when you’re trying to help them. They will have their own ideas and they will scream for those ideas. It’s in those moments of failure that all you can do is just accept it and play the only card that will get you through these years and the ones to come. It’s a card you can’t play in your career. It’s the one that trumps all others. It’s love. Love the hell out of them while you can.
PS: By now you’ve probably realized that you didn’t learn a damn thing with this post. More than likely you’ve already found your own ways to cajole your kids into doing what they need to do to survive childhood. And you might not have a career in marketing. To that I will say: well maybe you should have a career in marketing. And teaching you something was never really the point—this post was largely conceived so I could complain about two things at once.