“Focus” is sacrosanct for marketers, but it has become more and more elusive in a world that gets blurrier by the day. Shaping brand communications with significant impact was never easy. Now we have a moving target in every sense of the phrase: Over-programmed, stressed out, on the run, multi-tasking, addicted to smart phone consumers. Factor in the effects of YouTube and Reality TV, along with the long, slow decline of once accepted, traditional values governing how we eat, live and relate to one another, and marketers have a real mess on their hands.
None of this is news to anyone not living under a rock, but it was etched into sharp relief for me at one of my recent focus groups. A respondent coined a phrase so wonderful that I will now steal it and call it my own.
This full time wife and mom of three teenagers, who also held down a part-time job, described the complete absence of mealtime structure in her home, referring to it instead as “Blended Eating.”
There were no lines drawn between meals and snacking or between sitting down at the table with the family and jumping into the car with a gym bag in one hand and a Hot Pocket in the other.
She said that it was not uncommon for her oldest, football-playing son to be warming up pizza rolls or bagel bites for his second or third “lunch” of the day while she was getting ready to put dinner on the table for the family. (He’d eat this too…his first of at least two “dinners” that night.)
Again, none of this is really a big shock to anyone with children at home, but it does put an exclamation point on the institutional demise of the family dinner as known by earlier generations.
It brings to mind the seminal 1993 article by the late U.S. Senator and statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” In this discussion of crime and social behavior, Moynihan observed that activities formerly considered “deviant” had become widely accepted, that the abnormal had become normal.
The demise of the family dinner is surely not in the same league as rising percentages of young men in prison, deadbeat dads or high school dropouts. But it does reflect a glacial shift in personal values. Relativism and rationalization are essential coping mechanisms of contemporary American society as we struggle with eroding living standards, economic stagnation, a constant, suppressed fear of terror and enormous social pressure to “keep up.”
As a result, we have become glib about our definitions of “nourishment,” “family,” “quality time,” “nurturing,” “good parenting,” “education,” “discipline” and so may other aspirations.