Are We Really a Baby-Obsessed Society?
I’ll start by saying that I’ve said it too: “we are also a baby-obsessed culture (pick up any issue of People magazine to see that).” It wasn’t until I was helping a friend with her book proposal that I realized that I had been overlooking a truism of the publishing industry which also holds in the general marketing world: rarely is it a good thing to say that there is nothing like your book in the stores.
That’s the instinct, right? You tell the agent that your book fills this untapped niche. There are people out there, just like you, and your book will help those people. But it’s actually not usually a good thing to point out that no book like yours exists on the market. There is usually good reason for that. Publishing is very different from book writing. Publishing is a business transaction. Usually it matches up: the story is good AND there is a market. But sometimes, you can have a great book that just doesn’t have a clear-cut audience that the publisher can market to and it doesn’t get picked up. And sometimes you have a fairly crappy book written by a celebrity who brings with her a clear-cut market and they publish her book because they know they can move copies.
So it is better then to explain to the agent why your book is superior to the ones already on the market. See, there is an audience for my book BUT my book is better than all the ones already catering to that audience. Even if you have to stretch a bit to find something even remotely similar.
How does this tie into babies? Well, I realized as I was telling her this that sure, if we only look at magazines or the way mommy bloggers are approached or sitcoms, we may walk away with a belief that our culture is obsessed with babies. And I clearly have until this point. But remember, marketers are not necessarily reflecting what we want or what we believe. They are reaching out to a specific population that they can reach.
Image: Ken Hawkins via Flickr
For instance, new parents tend to focus on a certain, small amount of subjects. They frequent the same places. Therefore, new parents are a good target audience to appeal to for sales. You know who isn’t a good target audience? Parents of teenagers. Parents of teenagers have a large, diverse set of issues. They go off in too many directions. There isn’t a clear place or subject matter to use as a focus. Therefore, while parents of teenagers could probably use their own magazine, they don’t get a nice magazine such as Martha Stewart Baby because it would be too difficult to get subject matter that would appeal to the majority of the population you’re trying to reach. (If the magazine doesn’t contain enough articles that interest you, you’re going to stop reading it.) And while they know that pediatricians and Mommy-and-Me gyms are going to toss Martha Stewart Baby on their waiting room table, there isn’t a place where parents of teens are congregating in the same way that parents of small children tend to hit the same type of establishments those first years.
In Apart at the Seams, one of the characters muse on how there are so many wedding magazines and no marriage magazines. Any outsider looking at humans would concur that we are only interested in this single day — the wedding — and have no interest in the aftermath. Though personal reality tells us a different story. Yes, we talk with our friends about the wedding, but we continue to talk to our friends about the marriage, especially when there are issues in a marriage. Yet brides are easy to market to: it’s a finite amount of time, most weddings contain the same moving parts, and there are clearly wedding vendor establishments that can carry the periodical. Marriage… that’s too amorphous for publishers. That’s too big a population. What may interest me about marriage probably won’t interest you, especially if we’re at different points in our marriage time-wise. Dating is slightly easier to market to because it’s focused on moving you toward marriage. But marriage itself? What can you say? Here are some tips for… more marriage. More of the same.
That’s what we want, isn’t it (I don’t think anyone wishes to go through divorce), but it isn’t what sells.
So we can’t really look at the media around us to tell us what matters in our society. We have to look at society itself; human interactions, laws, studies. We have to go to the personal. When I look there, I see a conflicting reality. I see us understanding that babies are a necessity if we want to continue the species and being down-right annoyed by them at the same time. We pass out lollipops at the bank and ban kids from restaurants. We’re like this in a lot of places; we’re touched and annoyed by the very same thing: elderly people (love grandma and hate that old people walk so slow!), differently-abled (wow, that was a touching video of someone who had their leg amputated walking again for the first time and then ask in the same breath why people should get special parking permits due to physical limitations), and yes… babies (so cute and yet I don’t want to sit anywhere near you on an airplane).
So I’m not sure we’re really baby-obsessed. Baby-interested? Especially because it comes from a biological drive? But I’ll refrain from making the above statement again in a future blog post (and please remind me of this post if I do).
So I guess I ask all of you: are we as a society really baby-obsessed or is marketing baby-obsessed while we’re baby-interested? Or are we really not any more interested in babies than we are in the next Super Bowl winner or whatever is in front of us at the moment?