Though I was pretty nerdy in school and committed to getting good grades, nothing about my formal education has served me as a mother. It’s the work experiences I've gathered — first on indie film sets as a script supervisor, then breaking into advertising as a copywriter, and now as a branded content creator — that have served me best as a parent. A career in advertising was an unexpected resource to glean parenting skills.
I write and produce branded content, which, for those of you who don't know, is that gray field of advertising where we want viewers to feel like they’re getting entertainment/information (to be fair, they are), but also develop warm fuzzies for the brand that’s paying for this not-quite-commercial piece of content. This business model didn’t even exist when I started my career as an ad writer in a major cable company's promotions department, trying to get customers to buy boxing events on pay-per-view. But as consumers grew savvier, the industry evolved to keep up. Incidentally, it works out because it essentially means that companies are paying us to build content that audiences actually get something out of. Like, it beats the hell out of a pop-up ad.
Anyway, the point is, my career went in some unexpected directions. And though I wanted to write and direct movies when I grew up, I now make branded content instead (technically still movies, though only 30-60 seconds long). As it turns out, this shift in my career has proven to be a good thing, because advertising has taught me so much about parenting.
Here are some of my advertising career principles that helped prepare me for parenthood:
Less Is More
That’s the number one rule in copywriting. When you keep things short, they’re easier to remember, and my goal as a copywriter was to make a brand memorable. Now that I’m a mom, I want my kids to remember things. So no diatribes from me. I speak to them mostly in bullet points (or the occasional freestyle rap).
The Power Of A Jingle Is Real
Put anything to music and you’ll remember it better. I taught my kids my cell phone number by reciting it to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
The Best Slogans Also Apply To Parenting
- Think Different. (Apple)
- Just Do It. (Nike)
- Got Milk? (California Milk Processor Board)
- Can You Hear Me Now? (Verizon)
- It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (Timex)
- I’m lovin’ it. (McDonald’s) OK… maybe not this one all the time.
It Takes A Village
As a writer/producer, I can only take a commercial idea so far. Without the collaboration with stylists, casting agents, editors, animators, sound mixers, or production managers, my efforts are moot. As a parent, I rely on a network of family, neighbors, educators, and caregivers to help raise my children. I should probably also credit Netflix. Netflix is a crucial part of my village.
Everyone Has An Opinion
It is not enough to satisfy your boss with your work. In advertising, and in many other professions, there are about a zillion layers of approval a project must go through. And at every point, somebody wants to put their fingerprints on it. They all have something to say. That’s something I deal with as a mom too, where everybody feels compelled to give me parenting advice. One way parenting is better: Since the "advisors" are not paying me, I don’t have to listen to anything they say.
Never Take Feedback Personally
And when I receive all this brilliant aforementioned criticism, I have learned not to take it personally, even if my entire idea's been trashed. It's not me the marketing executive doesn't like, it's just a concept and I'll come up with another one. Likewise, I don’t take my kid’s feedback personally either; When my 8-year-old daughter declares I should do something about my hair or my 5-year-old son tells me I’m the meanest mom ever because it’s time for bed, I know they still love me (mostly because I control their screen time, but I'll take what I can get).
Don’t Believe The Hype
Working in advertising totally jaded me on baby gear hype. As the copywriter, crafting the messaging to entice consumers to buy a certain product, I know how the sausage gets made. So when it came time to load up on what the baby websites insisted was necessary, I kept our registry lean. (Wipe warmer be damned, I say!)
It’s Not What You Say — It’s How You Say It
Advertising isn’t about communicating information (“Drink something that’s an uncola!”). It’s about evoking emotion. The best branding elicits an emotional response from the viewer. Think about this year’s Superbowl ads: They didn’t focus on touting a product’s attributes. Instead, they told a story that sucked the viewer in with the feels. My kids don’t always listen to my words (“No talking with your mouth full please!”), but they do react to the tone of voice. I can’t always stop myself from yelling, but when I do, they are much more inclined to cooperate. They don’t always “hear” me, but they always “feel” me.