At Giraffe, we have a deep understanding of kids, youth and families. In our semiotic and cultural analysis offering we are able to map out and understand how parents and kid’s worlds are changing and unpick the unconscious messaging they are receiving. Here we will explore the impact of COVID on our cultural expectations of children.

Children have always had an interesting role in British society, they are often the group that we project our cultural anxieties onto the most. Previous cultural anxieties have often manifested themselves in concerns around children’s safety and wellbeing whether it be climate change, healthcare or issues like gang crime.  But with COVID these anxieties have been flipped on their heads. Adults are now the ones under threat, with children seen as relatively immune not only to the virus but also its larger structural consequences.

 This role reversal has meant that our cultural expectations of children have changed. This shift has been shown most clearly in adverts targeting families and parents, with the way children are depicted and shown changing significantly pre and post-lockdown.

Kids were mini-superheroes, striving for a better future…

Back in the halcyon days of pre-lockdown life, the core messaging surrounding children in the media was one of empowerment. Parents were, and still are, all too aware that their children would likely grow up into a world where big and scary issues like climate change, the obesity epidemic and ongoing sexism would significantly impact their lives. In order to prevent this happening, children would have to be prepared to fight these issues head on, with Gen A and Gen Z being the saviours of tomorrow.

Our adverts at the beginning of the year reflected this perception of children needing to be empowered to fight injustice. Spurred on by real life kid -saviour figures like Greta Thunberg, campaigns like WWF’s #AdoptABetterFuture and ITV and Veg Power’s Eat Them to Defeat Them campaign saw kids positioned as the next generation fighting issues like deforestation and undernutrition. Adverts from campaigns like This Girl Can and brands like Always positioned girls as strong and confident, fighting against sexist stereotypes. 

In many ways’ kids were depicted as mini-superheroes, saving us from our collective cultural anxieties.

…Now normal is enough!

However, COVID has changed this perception. The world has changed dramatically with children no longer being seen as potential saviours.  Instead of fighting injustice, kids are now representing a level of normality that many crave – showcasing that despite the pandemic, life does and must go on.

Brands like Very, with their ‘Life is this Very moment’ campaign use children to remind audiences to enjoy the small things in life and live in the moment. Which is in stark contrast to pre-pandemic adverts which were using children to remind audiences to worry about the future!

Other adverts like ASDA’s Halloween advert show kids seamlessly transitioning to the ‘new normal’ still having Halloween fun despite not being able to trick or treat.

Children are no longer where we project our anxieties, but instead where we project our hope and, in this moment, we are all hoping for a return to normal.

So, what does this all mean for brands? Paying attention to the role of children is important, particularly when marketing towards families and parents. Children can evoke powerful emotions so representing them in a way that reflects parents hopes and concerns is central to engaging this audience. By representing kids as ‘just kids’ brands can tap into the current cultural expectations surrounding children, helping them feel authentic and truthful to parents’ lives.

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