A Mixed Blessing for Stepfamilies? There’s S’more to Learn from Honey Maid’s New “This is Wholesome” Ad Campaign

Stepfamily Information and Support
Brenda Ockun
Publisher of StepMom Magazine

In 1973, a postage stamp cost 8 cents, “The Brady Bunch” was in its fourth year of production and I was in kindergarten.

My teacher, Ms. Rahn, was a tall, thin woman with overly teased, brassy blond hair. We kids walked to school—where we read “Dick and Jane” books, ate cookies and drank whole milk before taking 20-minute naps. We sat cross-legged, in circles, on the floor while learning the virtues of sharing and waiting your turn. And nearly everyone’s parents were still married, as far as we knew.

We live in a different world today. And Honey Maid knows it.

Earlier this year, the graham cracker arm of Nabisco (owned by Mondelez Int’l.) launched an ad campaign designed to appeal to a generation that values diversity. Honey Maid’s “This is Wholesome” line of advertisements features same sex couples, interracial couples and now? Drumroll, please: stepfamilies.

It seems that the marketing folks at Honey Maid did some demographic research and learned what stepfamily advocates have known all along—stepfamilies are becoming the norm.

Here’s why:

  • 40% of all adults in America belong to a stepfamily1
  • 1 out of every 3 weddings in the U.S. results in a stepfamily2
  • 1300 new stepfamilies are formed every day3

Despite its repeat use of the heavily-contested term “blended,” it’s commendable for Honey Maid to reach out to this enormous, growing segment of the population. *

Kudos to them for being brave enough to shine a light on divorce and remarriage while other retailers, greeting card companies and primetime talk shows ignore the fact that less than half their audience lives in the white-picket, 2.5-child, black-lab-owning, suburban dream world they perpetuate.

There’s only one snafu (and it pains me to say this, because I love s’mores as much as the next stepmom): Their newest commercial doesn’t truly speak to stepfamilies, because it doesn’t paint a realistic picture of the average stepfamily.

Don’t believe me? Ask almost any child of divorce if they agree with Isaac—the little boy in Honey Maid’s latest ad (curiously labeled a documentary), who declares “I have two moms and I’ve got two dads,” and you’ll see what I mean. Better yet, ask any biological mom if their child’s stepmother is a second mom. Then duck and run!

Do divorced couples happily celebrate at joint birthday parties and shared holidays? Some do. Are there kids who can love their stepparents freely, without fear of hurting their biological parents’ feelings? A few. But, the truth is? The vast majority of stepfamilies simply don’t look, or act, anything like Isaac’s family.

In fact, this ad may do more harm than good.

Because, despite its intentions, Isaac and his extended and “blended” family have the potential to make the rest of us feel as if we’re doing something terribly wrong. Or worse, as if we’ve failed to “blend” when we’re unable to successfully cohabitate with one another and/or amicably co-parent with our exes.

Here’s the ad I wish Honey Maid had created:

Kids. Sitting around a campfire. As they talk, the camera pans between their faces and the individual ingredients of the s’mores they’re building. They swap stories about how long their parents have been divorced. They agree that dual birthday and Christmas celebrations are a perk. They confess that their stepparents, in reality, are pretty cool.

They joke about how annoying their stepsiblings’ behaviors are. They confide that, while they sometimes wish their parents were still together, they realize they’re lucky to be surrounded by lots of people who care about them—even if they don’t show it. The camera cuts to a dad and his wife who, overhearing the conversation as they approach with another tray of s’more ingredients, smile at one another.

It’s obvious to them—and to the viewing audience—that these kids are #NotBroken.

IT’S YOUR TURN! Share you thoughts with me in the comments below.

* Blending and blended are terms marketers love, but stepfamily experts dislike for its implication that melding together—looking and/or acting like a first family—is the only way to actually be a family. And there is no single, right way to be a successful stepfamily.

SOURCES: StepMom Magazine 1 Pew Research 2 SmartStepfamilies.com 3 US Census Bureau

19 thoughts on “A Mixed Blessing for Stepfamilies? There’s S’more to Learn from Honey Maid’s New “This is Wholesome” Ad Campaign”

  1. I have to totally agree with you Brenda. This ad is fabulous…as all of the ads have been for Honey Maid’s “This is Wholesome” campaign. But that’s what also makes me so sad…sad that this is a possibility for some, but will probably never happen for my family…

  2. This is a great commercial. This is how it should be for blended families. However, it is rare to see in actual real life. Maybe this commercial will help the adults see that these kids have love for both sets of parents! It’s not a competition or an evil tactic. It’s simply loving a child! Fellow Step-mom

  3. I completely agree with you Brenda. I love that the ads are so diverse, and that nabisco is creating awareness to all types of families. I suppose that they are trying to keep it as warm and fuzzy as possible. But I love your ad idea a whole lot better. That’s reality in my opinion. All stepfamilies know the challenges that exist. I guess we are just overly sensitive to having a stepfamilies portrayed as perfect. We know, there really is no such thing. We already have the societal pressure that perhaps a stepfamily should look just like a first family. But anyone that is in the stepfamily, whether it is a child or adult, we know better. I’ll still eat smores though, and the skids absolutely love them! So that part is a blessing.

  4. I love it when products take a more heart warming approach to their ads and support a message like Honey Maid did with this one. However, I also felt their research ended with the numbers and didn’t examine how many step-families do not even remotely act this way, especially as children get older. Watching it made me say “whatever” instead of their anticipated warm feeling. I’d like to see your commercial Brenda!

  5. When I watch that commercial parts of me wish that his father and I could “blend” more with his mother and stepfather. But reality is that we are different, and that is ok. It is actually best for him, and us.

  6. Brenda

    I have o agree with the previous comments. While the ad did portray how some kids may view their new families and parents the reality is that most kids don’t feel the can openly express their feelings for their new step parent. This is sad. It is also difficult for the new parent who truely does want good things for the new blended family but due to resentment from the opposite parent making the adjustment harder for all especially the kids. The ad shows how it should be with a blended family but not really how it is.

  7. Hi Brenda, I appreciate the sentiments in your piece and I agree that it would be helpful if more content producers addressed the reality of stepfamilies in America. I’m the biological dad in a blended family who (also) has nothing like the relationship with my ex that is suggested in this spot, but I’m also an advertising creative director, and I think that maybe your interesting perspective says more about the ad business than anything else. I can see that Honey Maid, rather than feeling responsible for holding a mirror up to our demographic, is trying to pull stepfamilies (and same sex parents, and multi-racial parents) into the definition of “wholesome,” something that’s kind of admirable by itself, given the shame we’re conditioned to feel for “breaking up a family” in the first place. It’s not uncommon (Nike) for the best advertising to show us an idealized version of our best selves… HM is trying to evoke the pure pleasure of eating a graham cracker after all, so showing the typical reality of blended family conflict (which is not depicted in your ad either) is possibly not going to sell more Honey Maid. Sometimes I see a great Nike ad and I’m shamed into getting my overweight butt back onto the running trail; is it possible that advertising like this, which does (I think) depict an actual family, (thus the “doc” tag) could inspire us to try harder to be our best selves? The cynic in me says, well, advertising almost always makes us feel crummy about ourselves, which is maybe its perpetually unstated goal. If I were always content with my lot in life, how could anyone ever talk me into buying graham crackers?

  8. At first glance it appears that Honey Maid took a brave step in showcasing a typical stepfamily, which is becoming the norm in today’s society. But Brenda is correct in that they ultimately fail in this representation. And while the commercial speaks to the reality of some stepfamilies, it sugarcoats the true reality for the majority of those living “in step” and only perpetuates the “Brady Bunch” stereotype. So what’s wrong with this Polly-Anna portrayal? In short, it prescribes what those in stepfamilies should be thinking and feeling. Not only is this dismissive of each person’s experience “in step”, it’s unrealistic. Although I believe good intentions were behind the production, it unknowingly creates a mold into which those not in a stepfamily will try to force us that are. This placing of unrealistic expectations onto stepfamily members is what causes so many of my clients’ feelings of depression and anxiety. They walk through the door feeling as if they are doing this whole “step” thing wrong. When in actuality they’re just trying to figure out their place in it. It’s too bad that the creative agency didn’t take the time to get an informed look at the reality of step. Or maybe they did and decided to leave those nuances out because they thought it would be a downer. At any rate, Brenda’s suggestion is pretty spot on… maybe she should add commercial producer to her resume in addition to magazine publisher!

  9. This is our family 100%. A lot of people thought and think we are crazy for all getting along, but we love our life and out big happy blended family, we want to raise the kids in loving homes, we are not broken, we are stronger.

  10. I see where they’re going with this…the music, the cute little vulnerable kid and his honest observations…it’s an emotional ploy. One which, you’re absolutely correct Brenda, immediately made me feel completely inadequate as a Stepparent. I wondered if this is how it is supposed to be, I mean God knows my situation is far from perfect! And look at this, its a well thought out, well put together “documentary” of a real-life blended family who is really happy and raising healthy kids. And LOOK…the parents are all getting along! Get me some Honey Maid graham crackers for god’s sake! Then something reverberated with me that brought me back to reality: They lost me at, “I’ll never forget the first time he called me Mom”…and, “I have two Moms and two Dads” *cue the record slip* Ummm, no you don’t. I think this commercial is very cleverly exploiting some of the major weaknesses in a lot of Step-families that are unfortunately the reason that 2nd and 3rd marriages have even more abysmal failure rates than 1st marriages. Number one being: the breakdown of “Mom and Dad” as a unit for their children. Step-parents are there to love and support, not to be another Mom or Dad…that is confusing, and totally self-serving to the adults. (Here’s where 10 people will say, “but they want to call me Mom”…or, “they just started calling him Dad, I didn’t tell them to”…OK. Just remember children are experts at getting their needs met. They absorb verbal and non-verbal cues like sponges. If they think it makes you happy, they do it.) The number-one-point-five weakness: we’re all desperately seeking this perfectly blended family! We all want this happy sharing, everyone getting along with the Bio-Mom, and the Step-Dad and Step-Mom and SKids and everyone hanging out and moving on with life in complete Zen! Is there medical marijuana in those crackers? Because even if you’re blessed enough that you can achieve a few moments like this, you’re still living a separate life from your kids’ other parent for a reason…and that’s the part that hurts them the most…not your new spouse. So instead of focusing your energy on trying to replace your kids parent…focus on trying to be amicable with your ex, and being a whole parent yourself. I know your ex is a psycho…they all are. Fake it till you make it, join a support group, read a book, get some counseling (eat some graham crackers). This commercial is nice in that it does acknowledge blended families, and I think there will be more and more of this to come…but as with advertising media’s portrayal of the traditional family…it’s pretty unrealistic.

  11. It is nice to see this and see that their are adults who can get past their own bitterness and anger. The dad said it best. “it is what it is”. I am willing to be an adult, my husband is too but the ex wife not so much.

  12. I loved it. I loved loved loved it! I think that lots of parents out there think it isn’t healthy for their kids to accept 2 families. This makes it more normal. It helps kids see that they don’t have to be in a loyalty bind. If more birth parents could let go and let their kids attach to other caretakers, I think more kids could accept being a part of 2 different families. This commercial may be hard for those of us who aren’t in these magical situations, but I think it’s a huge benefit to teach people who don’t know otherwise, it’s ok to all get along. What I’ve seen on this forum over and over again is when the birth parents don’t support the steps, the steps have issues with the kids. I have lots of issues with the BM, but the one issue I’ve never had is her putting me down to the kids, and making them feel like they were betraying her if they loved me. Parents hold incredible power over their kids, and maybe this commercial will reach a few parents and give them a different perspective.

  13. It’s a heartwarming set of images and words and endearing to see all 4 adults getting on the same page and putting the needs of the child first. Sadly, this is rare in US culture. Too often it’s about agendas that the 2 divorced parents have, especially when one parent is bitter and resentful about past events. Other times, too, it can be about overly optimistic step parents who make assumptions or develop expectations without understanding the children well and respecting what the children need or don’t need to feel safe and secure.

  14. I personally loved this commercial. Sure, it’s idealized. But wouldn’t it be nice if parents could set aside their differences and act like the family in the commercial. If they could realize that it was their choice to split and share custody and so it’s their choice whether they want to all try to get along for the sake of the kids and families – or fight, and create an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality. That the child had no part of that choice – and so making the child see two healthy, happy families and having both of their realities be able to co-exist instead of having to compartmentalize their life – is ultimately creating a positive, well adjusted, loved person. It doesn’t make me feel like I have failed as a stepmom – because I am not the one who is creating the issues. I am the step parent, not the parent and it’s up to BOTH the parents to be leaders in this process. I do also think that we need things like this to be more mainstream so that kids see that their situation is more normal. I love the hastag… I have always hated the term ‘broken home’ in reference to a situation that has moved past the initial divorce.

  15. Thank you so much, Brenda, for this article and I appreciate all of the comments thus far, so much. The truth is always refreshing. This magazine has saved my sanity, my dignity, and my marriage numerous times. Actually, it has made me realize I still have all these things intact, else they wouldn’t be so greatly challenged. It has helped me see that I am “normal” in a piece of the world where everything is so upside-down and backwards to anything else I’ve experienced, and moving forward in it takes a very, very long time. It’s not only society that somehow blames the stepmom for it not being that close to Mary Poppins, but the kids as well. Even though they’d resist it coming from the stepmom. You lasered in on one of the biggest hotbeds for the bio mom that gives the stepmom and kids so much grief as well, no matter where the stepmom stands on it in reality. Thank you for your humor!

    Your “re-write” of the commercial is still “a little optimistic,” (but then it wouldn’t be television would it), yet much closer to being possible for most and far less Pollyanna than the original vs.

    THANK YOU all again for this magazine. It always blows my mind that anyone, much less so many, know EXACTLY how I feel and what I’m going through! It’s like you’ve picked up a pen and recounted my day. It’s uncanny. So thankful!

  16. i think it is admirable for HM to showcase a “blended” family. Is it an accurate depiction of a typical stepfamily? Not so much… But do ads portray any family realistically? Usually the answer is no. So, I’m just going to chalk it up as a win because they’re at least not perpetuating the evil stepmom stereotype that is rampant in our culture!!

  17. Love this blog, love this post and all the comments. My only question is, know one seems to have mentioned how depressing this commercial is. Do we really need a step family commercial filmed in low light settings, with the kids and adults talking in dark quiet undertones? Combine this with serious and in my opinion, sad music, yikes! After watching this commercial, I feel a little depressed for these families and depressed in general! Being in a step family situation isn’t the end of the world, lighten it up a little Honey Maid… I’ve started a new blog about step families from the step child’s point of view… Check it out at http://www.colliesjournal.com

  18. I liked the commercial and while I would agree that it is not the norm, I do believe it can become the norm if the parents choose to change the way they think. For so long, in my opinion, society has said that the stereotype stepfamily dynamics are the norm and this “Wholesome” commercial by Honey Maid could be the first step needed to change that mindset. Maybe if what we saw from the family in the commercial became the norm, those (the parents, significant others, stepparents) who choose to continue fighting and not working together will become the minority and this becomes a less acceptable way of being when you are no longer with the father/mother of your child(ren).

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