‘We open on sunny foreign beach…’ – often the first response of the pallid, translucent creative team to a brief. ‘But it’s for a back to school uniforms campaign?’, protests the stickler-for-detail account executive. ‘You’re right of course… if you look at it traditionally...’

It’s odd. Advertising is at once both one of the most exacting mirrors of our society, yet also one of its biggest challengers. We mine focus groups to understand the true meaning of our societal structures and then we play with them to achieve ‘stand out’.

Ten years ago that same pale creative team could present ‘We open on traditional family around kitchen table…’ and it would go unchallenged. Today, the boardroom would echo to the sound of snorted cappuccinos. The traditional family is dead. Long live the traditional family.

So what is the ‘traditional family’ in Ireland any more? And if we do know what it is, are we allowed to say so? Well, yes and no… and ehh no and yes… and ok… I’ll just go through some of the facts and figures.

Released from our Catholic yolk over the last twenty years, Ireland has undergone a seismic shift in our attitudes towards family.  A strong majority (+60% except in the over 60’s) now support sex before marriage, a woman working outside of the home, having a relationship outside of your social class, living with your partner outside of wedlock.

So far, so good. Ireland is fostering a new range of progressive, forward-looking attitudes. However, when presented with another host of even more contemporary issues we see a slide in those support figures.

A single parent as a product of a divorce/separation garners just 50% support. A single parent (never married) – 45%. Inter-racial marriages – 50%.  A same sex couple who are living together – 46%. A same sex couple who are civil partners – 45%. A same sex couple who have children – 36% support.

Where’s all the solidarity gone folks? Was our resounding ‘Yes’ vote in the gay marriage referendum just something we did to look good on foreign news reports? ‘Isn’t Ireland great… sure weren’t we the first in the world to bring in the no smoking in bars and the ‘other marriage’ thing?’ Underneath it all, the facts suggest we’re not as progressive as we’d like to imagine.

And if those are the pervasive attitudes, do they match up to our actual experiences of the new family in Ireland? Well, as it is over 85% of us grew up in a ‘traditional family’; that of the married parents with at least one child. Only 10% grew up in a non-traditional family unit. Switch to the current family structure and we see that the non-traditional has jumped to 43% - with delaying or opting out of marriage or having kids driving the trend.

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So, if almost half of us are living in non-traditional family units, why isn’t there greater active support (as opposed to passive acceptance) for all its different variants? If it’s true that we have seen an accelerated rate of physical change in family units and their makeup, why does there appear to be such an inert conservatism and enduring support for strongly traditional views?

And the answers to these questions are ones that advertising planners, account executives and creatives have not just a professional obligation to uncover, but also perhaps also a moral one.

So, Ireland isn’t as forward thinking as it likes to see itself. Does that mean we pander to it, leaving its prejudices unchallenged or can our brands promote a modern, liberal Ireland that is still slowly evolving? Do we have a responsibility to do so, or is our depiction of the society we live in never meant to be more than superficial, a palatable non-contentious commercial snapshot of life simply trying to get people to spend more?

I believe we can do both. While still acknowledging that some groups hanker for the security of the ‘traditional’ family unit, promoting the new modern family in Ireland doesn’t have to be tokenism. It can be an engaging, brand building tool that works for our clients, works in honestly and intelligently engaging our viewers and works for the society we all share.

I’m in advertising long enough to know that its primary purpose is to build the brands we’re lucky enough to work on. And while advertising is never going to really change the world, surely we accept it can still do its bit.

Anyway, gotta go, it’s my Dad’s weekend to have me.  

 

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