Sunday, February 17, 2008

What mothers want (allegedly)

There's an article in Music Week about the unique sales opportunity that Mother's Day presents for the music industry, providing one of its "biggest sales spikes" outside Christmas as people go on a spending spree to spoil their mothers. I noticed the increased marketing for this occasion last year, as TV adverts started being screened for CDs with slightly mawkish titles, of obscure artists I'd never heard of, pitched at viewers as the perfect gift for Mother's Day. I remember it because it seemed that any old dross could be designated as 'appropriate for Mum' if it had a suitably sentimental theme, and I felt vaguely sorry for any mothers of more discerning taste who received one of those CDs.

A "Mother's Day-type product" seems to be based on curious assumptions about the musical taste of mothers, as if you can lump all mothers into one category. A deluxe edition of Simply Red's best selling album is to be re-issued and "aimed firmly at the Mother's Day market". Another company, Pinnacle, will be promoting Katie Melua throughout this period, as “Mother’s Day always presents good sales for Katie Melua albums." Yet another company is producing a collection called 'Just for You' (in case anyone is unable to write this in a card...?), with various assorted artists in the Melua vein. Other industry-driven suggestions are music by female singers or collections of 'oldies', including Billy Fury.

I don't quite understand the assumptions behind these proposed marketing campaigns, although I'm quite sure they're all based on solid statistics. If I gave my mother a Simply Red deluxe CD, she'd think I'd completely lost the plot. A musician friend of mine, who is also a mother, once described Katie Melua's output as 'male wank music', so I'm guessing she wouldn't be too pleased if her kids gave her that on Mother's Day. Should mums have a particular fondness for female singers, just because they're women? Did all women automatically like Margaret Thatcher, just because she was a woman? Did they hell.

The 'oldies' thing is slightly puzzling, as it seems to be based on several assumptions, one being that mums are a certain age or old enough to be nostalgic about music they grew up with, presumably during the 50's and 60's, since popular hits from those decades are usually featured on 'oldies' compilations. That can't be the case in reality, as many are a lot younger and probably weren't even born in those decades. The other assumption seems to be that everyone automatically likes 'oldies', and if you didn't when you were younger, there may be a point when you come of age and change your musical tastes to include these artists. Or maybe it's just a 'safe choice' for a gift that isn't likely to offend anyone, as the music is familiar now, distanced by time and no longer likely to shock or surprise, even if it did once when it was new.

I'd be interested to know if people's tastes do change as they get older, or if they continue to like whatever music they listened to when they were young. My grandmother used to be quite fond of wearing dresses made of pastel-coloured crimplene, a man-made, synthetic, slightly spongy fabric, as it was easy to look after (drip dry, no ironing needed). I wondered whether my mum would ditch her usual style of dress and switch to crimplene when she reached a certain age, but she never did. It proved to me at the time that certain tastes at specific stages of life aren't necessarily innate or inevitable. Maybe it's the same for music too, and these marketing campaigns for Mother's Day products are more for people who don't take the time to actually think about the tastes of whoever they are buying for. I think my own mother would really prefer a Led Zeppelin DVD, and I'll be keeping the Billy Fury CDs for myself. That doesn't fit the marketing demographics in the article, but at least I'll have thought about it.


SandDancer said...

I hate these marketing ploys. Its all so cynical and so far removed from what music should be about - although in the examples of Melua and Simply Red, that is exactly what they are about - unit shifting. I don't ever want to be so easily categorised and put within a marketers demographic.

Claire said...

Me too. I looked at some market reseach reports for my doctorate (though not music) and was vaguely disturbed by the way people were categorised.

I do take a slight pleasure in buying combinations of things in supermarkets that probably don't fit the statistics they get from loyalty card data, like Kerrang! and The Guardian, or Vogue plus the News of the World. Though there's probably a category for people that don't fit properly anyway.