How a women-led team created an ad that embraced truth and reflected the realities of breastfeeding and motherhood to launch a new product line
This article was originally published in Contagious I/O on 1 April 2021
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We recently reported on Frida Mom’s latest campaign created with New York-based creative agency Mekanism.
The film follows two women as they experience the highs and lows of postpartum motherhood and breastfeeding. The characters’ inner monologues narrate the spot, sharing their moments of joy and self-doubt with the viewer.
The campaign was designed to promote Frida Mom’s new breast care product line and launched with a 30-second spot on NBC during the 2021 Golden Globes which was supported by a longer form 1 minute 15 second film on social.
Results / (Updated 15.03.21) The long-form video (1:15) has been viewed over 2 million times on YouTube with an average view duration of 1:02. The campaign has generated over 2 billion earned impressions, driven 30% social engagement and quadrupled traffic to Frida.com, according to the agency.
Contagious caught up with Mekanism chief strategy officer Ambika Pai and executive creative director Laura Wimer, and Frida VP of strategy Kelly Meyers, to find out how they worked together to launch a new female-focused product category and ignite a conversation around the reality of motherhood. They told us:
- As a new category for consumers to wrap their heads around, landing why the breast care category exists was more important than explaining what the products do
- We have entered the era of ‘cut-the-shit’ advertising – consumers want to be shown the truth, not see glossy aspirational messaging
- Working as a women-led team gave them the confidence that stripped-back reality would be more powerful than more traditional shock-and-awe advertising tactics
- Marketers shouldn’t shy away from fear as this can be turned into a source for connection and understanding
Give an overview of the brand.
Ambika Pai: Frida is a parent brand that was founded in the baby space. Its most famous product is the snot sucker – it’s one of the must-haves in the category at the top of every new parent’s registry list.
Then Frida moved into postpartum which is where last year’s work came from [the spot that was banned from the Oscars]. That set the precedent for not just products that solve a problem in a new, best-in-class way, but also starting to engage in a cultural conversation around what parents and particularly moms go through when they give birth and in the subsequent timeframe after birth. So it’s been a really interesting evolution from a more product-solution oriented space, to a place that’s still solution oriented, but with a much larger cultural narrative at play, working to combat and dismantle the stigmas and taboos around women’s health and women's wellness.
Where does Frida Mom sit in the market? What distinguishes it from competitors?
Kelly Meyers: The majority of established brands in the breastfeeding category position themselves as baby brands with a focus on ‘feeding the baby’ both in product offering and messaging. What makes Frida Mom different is our focus on mom’s physical needs first and foremost.
Why did you decide to start working with an agency for this latest campaign?
Meyers: We knew that we had tapped into something with the 2020 Oscar ad from the support we received by communities of moms. For the launch of Breast Care, we wanted to continue to build on the momentum we created with Postpartum Recovery by partnering with an agency – specifically one with women in leadership across functions and teams.
Why is honesty so scary for brands?
Pai: One reason is that brands are often a way to make money and in this space they don’t know how to communicate on taboo topics. What’s so interesting is that the brands that have been able to enter these spaces are very new. Billie with body hair, Thinx talking about menstruation and period underwear.
Established brands that function within the established rules of marketing and advertising don’t want to touch those topics with a ten-foot pole, because they have accrued a userbase over the years that hasn’t been used to a brand speaking in that way.
Laura Wimer: There is a misconception that fear doesn’t equal profit and if you throw stories in [to culture] that might make someone fearful of becoming a mother or fearful of body hair or fearful of being too sexy, then that doesn’t equal a money-maker.
But fear and truth and connection can be profitable because you’re turning fear into something powerful and you’re turning it into connection.
Pai: Advertising has traditionally been a vehicle for storytelling. You see a topic, you get an insight, you understand how the brand fits in and you tell a story. You write something imaginative or poetic or whatever. What a lot of these brands need to do is not tell a story, they just need to tell the truth. And truth, just like fear, is a really scary place for people.
In the mom space, you ask yourself ‘why does nobody tell you that you may not be able to walk for three months? Or that sex feels totally different? Or that you’ll bleed for six weeks? Why does nobody tell you that?’ And these very hyperbolised, LOL reasons for not telling the truth that have crept up – people say ‘well, if we told women, they’d never have kids!’ – when actually, what women really need in those moments is a sense that people understand them, that they’re supported, they’re not alone, and that they have resources. The truth is scary, but only if you don’t back it up with a support system. And so to us, it was really important to make this as truthful as possible, versus telling a story.
What a lot of these brands need to do is not tell a story, they just need to tell the truth. And truth, just like fear, is a really scary place for people. The truth is scary, but only if you don’t back it up with a support system. - Ambika Pai, Mekanism
What was the challenge Frida set for Mekanism and the key business objectives in the brief?
Meyers: Introduce Frida Mom’s breast care line of solutions designed for mom’s unmet challenges while breastfeeding. Our communication objective included delivering on our brand purpose of demystifying the realities of motherhood and showing the real experience as much as possible.
What effectiveness metrics were set out?
Meyers: With this effort, we’re focused on driving brand awareness and conversion – with the campaign spanning the entire funnel. To that end, we were focused on media impressions – heavily leaning towards earned impressions – and conversion to purchase from paid online tactics.
Wimer: Their goal was 1 billion impressions. And we doubled to 2 billion impressions in the first seven days of launch of the two videos. I remember it being shocking that the simplicity of truth, instead of telling this dramatic story, is actually more effective than making something up.
Did you conduct any research to help inform the direction of the campaign?
Meyers: Luckily this campaign brief was able to leverage the same research and insights that were developed in defining the products themselves.
We challenge ourselves to create products that solve problems and are rooted in human truth. One of our greatest sources of insight for our research was listening to moms in social forums and looking at the most mentioned recurring problems that moms were troubleshooting in the community.
Pai: One of the most interesting aspects of this entire thing was a stat that Frida brought to us: 87% of women start off breastfeeding and 60% stop before they intend to. That means 60% of women are stopping short of achieving either the timeframe or the milestone or the quantity that they want when they’re feeding their child and immediately considering themselves a failure. There is so much shame and judgement.
That stat really stopped us in our tracks and gave us a North Star. If women want to continue, how can we equip them with the understanding that it’s going to be hard, knowing what you’re getting yourself into, and being okay if you have to feed formula.
How did that shape the idea?
Pai: We landed on this idea of revealing the realities and helping these mothers live the breastfeeding experience in a way that’s true to what it actually is versus how it’s been painted out in the world. So to reflect the ups and downs of breastfeeding versus projecting it as this very linear upward trajectory.
Our strategy was just very simply to ‘prepare mom to care for her breast realities’. Everything in the motherhood space centres on the baby and the mom gets completely left out of any conversation and the equation and the totality. And so bringing it back to centre on mom, and the idea of her caring for herself, her caring for her breasts, and therefore being able to feed her baby felt like a really nice twist.
Wimer: The work could have gone to a very functional place: ‘this is what we have and this is how you use it’, because no one knows what it is yet culturally. But that’s actually less important right now than why you need to take care of yourself and not just your baby.
I remember it being shocking that the simplicity of truth, instead of telling this dramatic story, is actually more effective than making something up. - Laura Wimer, Mekanism
Once development was underway, did the agency do any research?
Pai: We are a Slack-based agency and we have an entire channel called MekMoms, so the seeds of some ideas have come from MekMoms. It’s a topic so many people are passionate about.
Also on the team, Laura’s right hand, Rachel Carlson, who had a heavy hand in writing the script, had breastfed her children and gone through that experience. I had just come back from maternity leave and was going through the experience. Our managing director was pregnant and is now on maternity leave.
So we had a group of people across this account, who just had a very, very deep understanding of this world. We had experience both first-hand and from a proximity perspective and it was something that was very, very close to all of our hearts.
The research we did was less about qualitative research because Frida did come with a lot of that information. What we did was get very deep into mommy blogs, podcasts, Reddit, mom groups on Facebook, places where more of these intimate conversations are happening, to understand everything women feel like they’re up against because everyone’s experience is so different.
It must be hard to represent all those unique experiences in one spot, how did you tackle that?
Pai: We didn’t want to create something that felt like breastfeeding is a singular monolith, we really wanted to share that the experience is different for everyone. That’s why there are two moms in the spot, we didn’t just want to show one mom’s journey because all the journeys are different.
Wimer: Talking about the two stories, it was actually where they collided which is really important. There are a couple places where we intentionally put the VO stacked over each other, like the word ‘tired’, and ‘I just want to feed my baby’. We planned it to have one person finishing the other person’s thought. It shows that the universal truth is confusion and feeling a bit like you’re in silo.
This is a category where the focus is typically on the baby, how did you emphasise Frida’s focus on mothers in the execution?
Wimer: From a visual perspective, we really wanted it to look like a modern woman’s ad, we were trying to make sure it didn’t look like a traditional baby brand. We wanted it to feel like you were a fly on the wall. We wanted really tight crops. And most importantly, we wanted mom in focus over the baby.
Every single shot is mom first, baby second. We never show baby’s face front and centre – at the start it’s mom’s face centre shot, then her chest, then her baby is the third thing you see.
Client-side, what was the initial response to the work?
Meyers: We knew when we saw the first pitch on a single slide from Mekanism that they tapped into the magic of our first postpartum spot and then some. Their use of first-person internal monologue across two different characters brought a universality that we knew would resonate with any and all types of moms.
Are the women you cast in the ad mums? Are they actors?
Wimer: They’re both: new moms and have had acting experience.
Mayra, I remember, was having engorgements throughout her day and we asked her if she could try to spray and when the milk hit the mirror, we weren’t planning that, it was just this wonderful, magical moment where not only did we bring our realities in the script, and with the director, now we have these real women actually living this today. There was real life happening on set there. That is beyond any actor.
Wimer: No one wants to give praise to this terrible pandemic, but I think if someone were to name this era of work, it would probably be called the cut-the-shit era of advertising. I don’t want to see someone happy, frolicking through a field, all we want is connection. I think it’s all coming out this year, because we are all too tired and we are all too siloed to not be truthful with each other. It is such a good turning point for all advertising and the future of focusing on truth inside stories instead of stories we think are great for theatrical fodder.
Pai: We’ve been reaching a precipice of women being sick of projecting this perfect image. People like Amy Schumer, and Ashley Graham, who have been very vocal about the realities of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding. It’s truly the first time that these conversations are catching fire in culture and have a bigger stage, which has really set the stage for brands to also be more vocal. So, I give a lot of credit to those women, because it’s not an easy thing to talk about.
There's a fine line between holding a mirror up to people's experience and exploiting people's experience. Those spaces behind closed doors are private for a reason and so for a brand to enter itself into that conversation feels tone deaf. But a brand standing up for those topics and standing up for those women in culture, showing people what life is actually like, that is the role that brands should be playing.
I think if someone were to name this era of work, it would probably be called the cut-the-shit era of advertising. I don’t want to see someone happy, frolicking through a field, all we want is connection. - Laura Wimer, Mekanism
How important do you think it was that the team on this were not only women, but also have experiences of motherhood?
Wimer: Critical. Crucial. It was critical that we had a woman director vetting the motherhood experience, which we did in Rachel Morrison. When it comes to the work of telling the truth and our visceral visual strategy – it’s in the rhythm of the pump, the sound of squirting a nipple and milk hitting a mirror. It’s that sound of the vibrator pushing against your chest. Those are these details that only women can understand and share and talk about. It was crucial that it was a woman-led project because we had the confidence to know those details were enough for great work, it didn’t need to be more than reality.
What has been your single greatest learning from this campaign?
Wimer: Truth is all it takes to make great work.
Pai: Women need more women at the forefront of this industry to make the kind of work we need.