Media: Just don't call me Mother ...
Monday 23 March 1998
The founders of a new upmarket, glossy magazine for mothers of children under 10 tried for months to think of a name for it. They tested dozens of titles including Family Times, Modern Mother, Mama, Parents Today, Maman, Smart Parent, Our Kids and Our Child. But the verdict was always the same.
No matter how good the content, the women hated anything with family, parent, child or mother in the masthead. "When we showed them the magazine," explains publisher Vivien Cottrell. "The majority said they would be happy to read it at home. But there was no way they would be seen with it in public."
It was all a little reminiscent of pornographic magazines. There is no shortage of men who enjoy them, but they don't want to be seen reading them on the bus. However, eventually, the National Magazine Company came up with a suitable title.
M will go on sale on 4 May aimed at capturing well-off, well-educated mothers aged between 25 and 40. Perfect. Women love it, according to the market research, preferring it to the more earnest image of existing parenting magazines, which focus mainly on pregnancy and babies.
Those involved can recognise that M is for mum and M also stands for modern. But to the rest of us, the new magazine will remain something of a mystery. After all, isn't M that shadowy female figure in Bond movies?
Why all the subterfuge? It seems, according to research conducted for the launch, that women are loathe to be identified as parents in the media they buy. As a result, motherhood is treated almost as an underground, slightly shameful activity. Perhaps it is not, like pornography, packaged between brown paper covers, but, if M is to be successful, it will have to deal with the subject by wrapping itself up in the familiar glossy images of Vogue and Cosmo.
"There is a lot of concern about negative images that surround motherhood," says Sue Coffin, who is responsible for marketing the new magazine. "It's not that the mothers themselves feel negative about what they are doing. But they are concerned that they will be judged purely as mothers. They don't want to buy a magazine which will leave them labelled by others as mothers and nothing more. They see themselves as mothers, women and wives and they want these other aspects of their lives acknowledged."
The untrendiness of motherhood can, likewise, be seen in modern advertising. Take, for example, the Peugeot 604 advert, which shows a man cleaning a car, with a woman getting turned on as she observes him, while someone else is asleep upstairs in the large bed. "You think that he's probably the gardener," says Joe Tanner of the advertising agency HHCL.
"She is portrayed as downright horny and sexy, certainly not very motherly. She is in the kitchen seducing the bloke, when the radio falls on the ground, the music stops and you realise that it's their child upstairs in the bed. But she hasn't been thinking about the child. Indeed, it's the father who eventually goes upstairs to look after him. A lot of mothers will like these images, rather than just be seen rocking the cradle."
Tanner finds that women with young children feel attracted to images of themselves in adverts, because they are so absorbed in their new role and keen for any information. But as the children grow and mothers' lives expand, their attitudes change.
"They can find ads about mothers and children a big turn-off. Often they feel that the women are unbelievably attractive and look like they have never had children. Alternatively, they see an image of mothers as stressed, worn-out and run off their feet. Motherhood is their life and it's all that they do. Women really resent these images."
Melissa Benn, one of M's contributors recognises that there is a big problem in making motherhood seem aspirational. She recently published Madonna and Child, an attempt to raise its status. But she deliberately left the word "mother" out of the title in order to make the book more intriguing. Madonna, she says, with its allusions to the pop star, offered a more interesting title.
She thinks that women want escapism and fantasy from magazines, which makes it difficult for parenting publications to win them over. "If you are living being a mother it is so easy to feel imprisoned. So when you go out into the market you want to feel free of it," she says.
"The problem with magazines is that they tend to create identity, but modern women do not want to enlarge their identities as mothers. They do not consider motherhood to be valued because it is seen as merely being in a state of nature. Also in a working world, unpaid work is not valued. Even those of us who also do paid work, hide this other part of our lives, as if slightly ashamed."
In short, the creators of M have a tough job reaching their target audience. But Ms Benn is hopeful that the innovative title will help. "We all tend to think that we know what mothers do and don't need to know any more. Other work isn't like this because most of us are trying to sell ourselves and most jobs makes themselves alluring. Because mothers are not operating in a commercial world, they don't do this. That's why calling the magazine M is a clever move. It should give back a little mystery to motherhood."
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