Representation is the first step

Naomi Duckworth of VCCP proves inclusive work can cause real progress

by India Fizer , AdForum

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Naomi Duckworth
Creative Director VCCP US

In the latest entry of our 'Modern Parenting' series, Naomi Duckworth, Creative Director at VCCP, speaks on leading with empathy, and putting human needs first to form a deeper connection and understanding of the target audience, and how we can push for meaningful progress through the work. 

How has the depiction of parenthood in advertising evolved? 

Traditionally, advertising has painted an unrealistically rosy view of parenting — happy kids and happy moms and dads (but mostly moms), with a whole industry of breakfast cereals and laundry detergents to thank for their smiles. More recently, we have seen a much needed trend toward realism, honesty, and dimensionality in representations of parenthood. As an example, one of my favorite campaigns of all time came out two years ago for Frida’s line of breastfeeding care products.

Frida Mom "Stream of Lactation" 

The ads were so unlike other depictions of early motherhood in particular, which, despite the overall realism trend, is a time that is still generally rendered under a saccharine glaze that smudges over the emotional and physical pain which dominates the real experience for many new mothers. Brutally candid, the Frida campaign sheds light on both sides of this pain, empathizing with moms in an extremely validating way. Other brands have gone for a more lighthearted, yet equally welcome and refreshing, approach to realism, like the recent Ikea campaign, Proudly Second Best, in which the product takes a backseat in relatable parenting moments.

Ikea | Proudly Second Best


How are agencies and brands adapting ad comms to inclusivity around parenting?

Inclusivity in parenting is an interesting topic because, for decades, advertising has represented women as more essential to parenthood than men. The inclusion of men in representations of parenthood is key for several reasons, including its ability to help enable the inclusion of women in every other arena. As society has progressed toward treating dads as equal parents, advertising has slowly moved along with it, and now it’s more table-stakes to include at least some men as parents in ads. 

Less common is representation among non-heteronormative groups. While it’s not unheard of to see two dads or two moms as parents, it’s not common either. Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a major ad campaign spotlight nonbinary parents or trans parents, for example. I’d also like to see people of different abilities represented as parents. I will say the last time an ad made me cry was Apple’s “The Greatest,” which features  a non-hearing mother. (Granted, I was six weeks post-partum the first time I saw it, but I just rewatched it to make sure, and still — tears.)

Apple | "The Greatest"


In what ways does your role as a parent inform your work? 

In so many ways and in both directions! Parenthood has made me a better creative director, and my role as a creative director has made me a better mom. I’ve always described my management style as nurturing — not that I treat my teams like children, but I see their human needs first, do what I can to help meet them, and always look for ways to help them grow. As a mom, I have learned from my work life the power of delegating, including to my kid. You know what they say…give a kid a clean room and they’ll keep it clean for a day; teach a kid to clean their room and they’ll keep it clean for a lifetime..or at least a day and a half.


What are some areas regarding parenthood that you feel could use more visibility in advertising?

I would actually like to go one step beyond visibility and see brands do things that actually help parents in their lives. There are brands out there fixing potholes in the streets — which is great! Can this type of energy be applied to, for example, pressuring the government to reform legislation around paid parental leave? Can a brand give me an app to weed through and summarize all the emails I get from my kid’s school…(kidding - not-kidding)? 

I would also like to mention that breakthrough work around parenting tends to be reserved for special campaigns like Mother’s Day, etc. It would be great to see a more progressive and thoughtful approach to product campaigns year round.


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?

Thank you for raising this topic. It’s an important one not just for the legal guardians, but also for the children raised by them, as it helps normalize their family structure. I think that, like with many inclusivity issues, representation marks a strong first step. With that context in mind, I’d love to see more brands and agencies keep legal guardians in mind when diversifying the types of families depicted in their ads, featured in influencer campaigns, etc. As I mentioned in my last response around meaningful brands actions, I also see a whitespace for developing activations that bring legal guardianship to the forefront in more material ways.