In the latest entry of our 'Modern Parenting' series, Amber Justis, EVP and Executive Creative Director at Wunderman Thompson California, shares how her parenthood journey influences her work and what opportunities brands have to authentically depict modern families.
How has the depiction of parenthood in advertising evolved?
A worthy move toward more inclusive reflections of modern family structures is worth celebrating as well as seeing more honest reflections of the messy reality of parenting. There are still miles of opportunities to uplevel the authenticity of the depiction of how diverse families really connect and relate in an even more progressive way.
How are agencies and brands adapting ad comms to inclusivity around parenting?
Getting clear on an inclusive target way upstream when we brief on a project has become the norm. It’s been refreshing to see real creative insights come more from a parent’s mindset rather than just a list of specs. Fundamentally, no matter how you arrive at the role of being a parent, there are universal truths that are formed solely by the practice of learning to raise a little person. They are uncontested as the best teachers and if you’re a willing student they’ll show you the ropes. Kids are cool like that.
In what ways does your role as a parent inform your work?
Since my kids could talk, I’ve bounced ideas off them. Children are hands-down the most honest, affordable focus group you’ll ever witness. Ask a tweenager what they think of your outfit if you want to take an express train to Realtown, USA. When my daughter was 10 years old, she was absolutely my muse during the Barbie Body evolution. She was just beginning to interact with social media and seeing how powerful and nuanced the influence it had over her sense of who she was becoming was both fascinating and terrifying. Being a witness to those moments in her development really heightened the stakes for me. It dramatically impacted how we wanted to approach the subject matter when came to reimagining where Barbie could go next.
These days my now 16-year-old son regularly roasts me with the slang du jour which turns out is hugely helpful when it comes to clocking new ways to connect to younger audiences. I’ve always been obsessed with language and I’m lucky to have a firehose of new information coming at me full blast at the dinner table. Even if that means I’m on the receiving end of best/worst new burns, no cap.
What are some areas regarding parenthood that you feel could use more visibility in advertising?
I’m a very proud step-mama and it’s been such an intentional, meaningful part of who I’ve become in my life and in how I storytell in my career. I’d love to see more content that explores those bonds. It’s a hugely common family dynamic that creates such a unique relationship. It’s a trust that’s earned so purely with such incredible lessons attached.
Legal guardians can play a significant role in the lives of children who are no longer with their birth parents. How can brands balance the importance placed on these other parental figures in their messaging?
We can’t let off the gas when it comes to reflecting what’s true of families - which is they come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Many of us, myself included, have been both officially and unofficially adopted by big-hearted grown-ups who are able to hold space and support kids when the biological parents aren’t able to. Actively choosing to love a child is the most sacred, parental thing any human being can do. I highly recommend it if you want to expand how you experience joy and certainly if you want to stop taking yourself so seriously.