Do you ever wonder who your mom was before she was your mom?
I do whenever I start looking through old photos like the ones above (hi, Mom!) But I’ve been thinking about it more thanks to a story my Mom told me recently that completely challenged the way I think about her.
Context: my Mom never travels by herself. Like, ever. She’s always worried she’ll get on the wrong plane or the wrong train and end up lost somewhere. In fact, she won’t even drive on the interstate unless she absolutely has to, because she’s afraid she’ll miss her exit and be forced to continue driving at 70mph in a singular direction for the rest of her life (because, you know… getting off at the next exit and turning around isn’t an option).
I’m telling you this so you’ll understand how completely SHOOK I was when she told me about a time she took a train into downtown Chicago by herself to meet friends at Navy Pier. While there, she met a young sailor who was completely smitten with her, and she ditched her friends to spend the rest of the day exploring the city with him. When they finally parted ways, she couldn’t figure out how to get back to Union Station, and wound up taking several L trains through not-so-great parts of the city until she finally found her way back home.
Oh, and did I mention she was FOURTEEN years old when this happened? When I was fourteen, my mom would barely let me go to the mall with my friends. And while it was never explicitly stated, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that “hang out with sailors on the docks” was off-limits.
The experience really got me thinking, though, about how much I really don’t know about my parents or who they were before they became responsible, upstanding, neurotic, definitely-not-playing-hooky-with-sailors people. So when our team was charged with thinking up a new Mother’s Day campaign slogan at Groupon, I naturally started thinking about it all over again.
As part of our group exercise, we studied successful Mother’s Day campaigns from other brands and we all agreed we were drawn to one that utilized vintage photos of moms with their kids. I brought up the fact that seeing old photos always makes me wonder who my parents were before they had kids, and lobbied for a Mother’s Day campaign to celebrate moms for who are they outside of being moms—a recognition that motherhood is only a piece of their identity, and that we need to do a better job acknowledging that.
After brainstorming nearly 50 possible taglines, we settled on “More Than a Mom.” But we were torn on how best to present the idea visually.
Above, you can see an early iteration that utilizes more modern imagery. I felt this visual representation was really amazing. The images of strong women actively engaged in physical activity felt really empowering to me. However, as a group we had a few criticisms.
For starters, we were divided on the pink highlight in the word “mom”. Some members of the team felt it resembled a strikethrough and that we were painting the concept of motherhood in a negative light. Though not the designer’s intent, it was a valid critique.
Secondly, even though it was super encouraging to see photos of women doing really badass things like climbing mountains or holding super-difficult yoga poses, we did feel like the campaign lacked sentimentality. And while we wanted to steer clear of the overtly-sappy construct of most Mother’s Day campaigns, we didn’t want to take ALL the emotion out of the holiday.
We returned to the original inspiration for our concept: vintage photos. Here are some mocks that our designer Chris Walls put together using some pretty rad stock images:
We LOVED the way these vintage images looked with our “More Than a Mom” tagline. But we still had a major hiccup: our stock libraries really did NOT have many vintage photos of women having fun.
Someone brought up the idea of using photos of our actual moms for the campaign, since it was those photos that inspired the idea to begin with. But it would take several days of waiting on our legal department before we knew for sure if that would be a possibility.
Finally, they gave their verdict: we could use our mom’s photos! BUT we would need to get signed waivers from every mom to ensure they were okay with us using their images on the site. A mad scramble ensued as our creative team raided their mom’s old photo boxes and emailing consent forms back and forth.
Another piece of feedback for our designers: ditch the wood-grain backdrop. Some members of our team felt that the combination of the wood paneling and the tape gave the images a “true crime” vibe. Very on trend? Yes. Very Mother’s Day? No.
Instead, design went with a fun, vintage wallpaper background. Here’s a look at one of the finished assets (drumroll, please…):
Note: we had a pretty intense discussion about whether the word “chick” could be seen as demeaning, but we decided in the end that, within the content of the campaign, the intent was obviously positive, as we were using an idiom of the era to match the vintage feel of the campaign. Chicks are cool! Moms are cool! Moms can be cool chicks!
In trying to keep the language as consistent as possible across the brand’s lines of business, it was decided that we would keep our main message consistent, but change the modifier “cool” to suit whatever line of business we were messaging. For beauty, it became “chill” or “lovely”. For tech gear, “savvy”, etc. etc. Here’s a peek at just a few of the sends:
One thing that we really focused on throughout these messages, was to feature photos of moms doing things other than… well, being moms. As such, you won’t find very many photos of Moms with their children—and that’s intentional! But it definitely wasn’t easy.
I, for one, was shocked by the small number of photos that exist of my Mom by herself. It seems she was more often the person behind the camera than in front of it, and when she does make an appearance, it’s usually because she’s trying to hold one of her children up to blow out their birthday cake candles or to wipe something off our faces.
But to me, this struggle only emphasized how importance of our message: mom’s rarely get the spotlight, and when they do, they’re often sharing it. Even the language that shows up in most Mother’s Day cards (“she taught you”, “she raised you”, “she was there for you,”, etc. etc.) has a weird way of making Mom’s holiday… all about you instead of her!
Our Mother’s Day campaign finally let Mom be the star of her own day. And that’s ultimately why we’re so proud of it.