Mother’s Day Marketing: The Good, the Bad, and the Cringeworthy

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, so we should all take it as an opportunity to show our moms how much we appreciate them… by buying them shit, right? If my inbox is to be believed, yes, that is the most important thing to keep in mind this weekend. But what to get her? Unsurprisingly, the suggestions from some retailers are, shall we say, less than enlightened, though I’ve also seen a few that were pretty heartwarming or just refreshingly blasé. Then there are the ads that are, well, a little disturbing. You’ll see!

The Gender Stereotypes

Screencap of's Gift Books for Mother's Day categories - Cookbooks, Crafts & Hobbies, Romance
Wimmenz love to cook and knit, amirite?

Of course, when you’re advertising gifts for women and trying to recommend products you think moms will want, it’s easy to fall into stereotypes. With store displays where you have a limited amount of space, it’s especially hard to think outside the box. The Mother’s Day tables at the local Barnes and Noble and Sam’s Club were filled with fairly banal crap. Chick lit, self-help/inspirational books, cookbooks, craft books, stationary sets, and at Sam’s Club, a large assortment of children’s books. (To be fair, B&N also had a display of kids’ books about moms but at least they were in the children’s section.) Having helped set up these sorts of displays when I worked at a bookstore I really do get that there isn’t much room for creativity or duplication of what’s already on bestseller tables, but some variety would be nice. The web offerings aren’t much better. Barnes and Noble was at one point advertising the Cooking edition of Scrabble as a gift for mom; why not just regular Scrabble? While Amazon’s full list of gift books for Mom has a few more interesting suggestions, the home page links are pretty blah. I’m not trying to say that moms can’t like these books, hell, I like some of these categories, but after a while it starts to seem like any mom who has different interests is somehow weird. I’ve also seen plenty of ads for perfume and shoes, but since those were pretty much just from stores that specialize in those products, they’ll get a pass for now.

The Rage-Inducing

Then there are the stereotypes that just go too far. That table at Sam’s Club also had half a dozen different dieting books. If someone gave that to me as a Mother’s Day gift, they would be on my shit list for a long time. In the emails I’ve gotten over the last couple weeks, Amazon has also informed me of holiday discounts on epilators and vacuum cleaners. While I do need a new electric razor and think those Dyson vacuums and bladeless fans are pretty sweet, no mom wants their kids or significant other to give them gifts that call into question their personal hygiene or housekeeping. Vicious side-eye. Also, the Verizon ad where the mom is sobbing because her daughter is moving all of 15 miles away is just fucking obnoxious. Happy Mother’s Day; we think you’re all overly emotional and vaguely ridiculous! Buy our phone; it comes in purple!

The No Fucks to Give

I think these are some of my favorites because they don’t try too hard to browbeat you into buying what they think your mom or significant other will like. The Discovery Channel Store simply sent me a code (MOMROCKS) for $25 off any purchase of $100 or more. Sure, when you click the link the first few items are pink and/or related to cupcakes, but if your mom is more into MythbustersAmerican Choppers, or Planet Earth, you get still the same discount. (Resisting urge to buy stuff for myself…) Several other companies also sent out coupon codes that work on anything in the store, or offered bonus gift cards if you spent a certain amount. I like the no-pressure approach!

The Trying-Too-Hard

I admit, I do feel bad for the people in marketing who feel like they have to tie random promos to whatever holiday is going on. I got a hell of a laugh when this showed up in my inbox earlier with “Hooray for Moms!” in the subject line:

coupon from Kellogg's for $1 when you buy two boxes of cereal
Aw, you got me a coupon! You shouldn't have.

What better way to show mom you care than by saving $1.00 on cereal? I’m not saying I wouldn’t use the coupon, but it doesn’t really make me feel loved, you know?

The Pretty Damn Awesome

A few companies really got it right, though. went with simple ads that said “This Mother’s Day, thank your first narrator,” and “She’s the best narrator you’ve ever had.” A wee bit schmaltzy, perhaps, but it made perfect sense for a company that sells audiobooks. Charity and nonprofit ads also seem to do really well with their messaging. Kiva’s ad in support of their microlending program is simple but powerful.

Ad from Image of mother and child with text underneath reading "Mother's Day is May 13th in 80 countries around the world. Mothers give us the courage to dream big. So do teachers, neighbors, friends, and mentors. Kiva gives you the chance to empower these nurturers to dream big for themselves and help the next generation realize their potential.   This May, honor someone who nurtured you by giving them a chance to nurture someone else. Here's why."
Tug those heartstrings!

The Bad Mental Images!

Of course, it’s completely legitimate to advertise gifts for someone to give to the mother of their child rather than their own mother. But for the love of FSM, please be careful how you word those ads! When I see an email titled “Treat Your Mom to Something Special This Mother’s Day” or “Amazing Savings on Mother’s Day Gifts,” I’m really not expecting to open it up to find lingerie or vibrators, respectively. No, I am not buying La Perla for my mother and I hope like hell my kid would never buy that for me. Admittedly, once you opened it, the Eden’s Fantasy email was pretty obviously aimed at couples, but the damage was already done, especially since the promo codes all used MAMA. Ew, no.

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

12 replies on “Mother’s Day Marketing: The Good, the Bad, and the Cringeworthy”

I ordered mine a flower arrangement. It was the first time my sister and I (mostly me, but I put her name on the card because that’s what big sisters do) sent her flowers by our very selves, and she totally wasn’t expecting it. Yes, I’m technically an adult and should have figured these things out sooner.And, unlike most other gifts I’ve given her, she thoroughly enjoyed them, and I’ve decided that plant life is a way more effective way to combat the “Oh, I don’t need anything I just want you guys to [keep so-and-such clean/get good grades/don’t fail at life in general]” I get after most present givery. Plants: blowing everybody’s mind all the time since forever.

That said: so many of the ‘special for mother’s day’ bouquets bothered me/had silly frippery sticking out/were too many kinds of pink, and it was agonizing to pick one at a certain price point that didn’t make me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit. I think my mom’s a genius of badasses when she’s not driving me nuts, and butterfly motifs in general seem condescending. Also, why don’t we have a month for recognition of mothering/involved-parent-or-whoever-raised-you-ing? Mother’s day and Father’s day seem so…black-and-white. What do people with two of one do?

Even though I’ve been someone’s mother for 8 years, I still almost forget that I qualify for the holiday because I’m making sure I don’t forget to do something for my mom. I don’t really go all out, just a card, maybe a drawing from the kids, and a small gift. As for myself, I’m a big fan of… well, being by myself and not being someone’s mother for a couple hours. That’s nice. And quiet. And then I like something good for dinner, but it doesn’t matter if it’s out or at home.

But I’m with you on the stupid marketing. I hate that all the ads are bright pink too.

This was a really interesting read, thank you! Our Mother’s Day was back in March, and certainly, the marketing came in all the forms you describe. There was a large emphasis on flowers and chocolates, in particular. I try to see it in the Mothering Sunday light, rather than Buy All The Things. So, yes, we get flowers for our mother and try to see her on the day, but I don’t bake simnel cake or go down the route of a gazillion gifts.

My mother, like many mothers I’m sure, denies herself nice things with the thought, “I don’t need this, but so-and-so could use [fill-in-the-blank], so I try to get her things she wouldn’t buy for herself, but looks at longingly.  This usually ends up being a cute purse or shoes she can wear to work and feel good about herself.  And dessert.  If I am at home, I make her a kickass dessert.  I think when things feel commercialized, it’s because we take the meaning out of them and turn them into “buy this to prove you love your mom even though you ignore her the rest of the year.”  I want my mom to have nice things she wouldn’t get for herself.  And any other time of year, she’d probably get indignant that I didn’t spend that money on something for myself.  It’s a nice excuse, being able to give without hearing complaints.  :)

The BF and I were joking about Mother’s Day hubbub the other day. I have a strong distaste for Mother’s Day, because I see it as entirely capitalistic, and it lets us all pretend that we as a society actually respect mothers for a day. Oh, yes, tell your mother that she’s appreciated on Mother’s Day and let her take a break, then take her for granted and act like she doesn’t do anything important or difficult for the rest of the year!

We determined that, based on the commercials and such we see for them, the slogans for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day should be:

Mother’s Day: Tell her you love her!

Father’s Day: Buy him a gun! (Sponsored by the National Rifle Association)

#1) I love Kiva.  And I think Kiva gifts are really great ideas for Mother’s Day (but…you already know that).

#2) I try not to think of Mother’s Day as anything out of the ordinary.  Otherwise, it turns into a stupid spiral of high expectations and then a shitty day when I still have to do things like wash dishes.  Not worth it.  I’ve known lots of women whose husbands go all out for Mother’s Day and then are jerkbags for the rest of the year…I’m okay with not having anybody go all out.  But I have to remind myself to be okay with it.

#1) *wink*

#2) We never really do anything over-the-top. I think last year I made Neil take Lexie to the playground for a couple hours so I could have some peace and quiet. This year we’re doing pancakes and maybe a farmer’s market or something.

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