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Thursday, Sep. 4, 2008 at 11:30 am

Hockey Mom Vs. Soccer Mom – Will It Win Votes?

By Holly Buchanan
September 4th, 2008

Move over Soccer Mom – there’s a new political label in town.   Hockey Mom.

While past elections focused on the key voting block of the Soccer Mom, now it appears there may be a new focus.  This year, we have a candidate who is a self-proclaimed “Hockey Mom”.

As a marketing to women enthusiast, and a long-time researcher of Soccer Moms, this is one of those marketing insight opportunities that has me salivating.  How will this “Hockey Mom” thing play out with voters?

One of the main reasons Michele Miller and I wrote The Soccer Mom Myth was to help companies and marketers break through the stereotype of the Soccer Mom to better understand who women really are and why they really buy.

We’ve found that women don’t like the label “Soccer Mom.”

Yes, Soccer Moms are terrific mothers, devoted to their children, driving them to and from sports games. But there is also a negative side to the term. Do you think Soccer Moms are incredibly technologically savvy? Would you seek one out for intellectual conversation at a cocktail party? Would you want one running your company?

Here’s the problem. Sometimes these biases are unconscious. That’s why they are so dangerous.

So do we now have a new stereotype?  I’ve heard of Hockey Moms before, but with Sarah Palin now calling herself a Hockey Mom, the term seems to be everywhere.

It’s always a little tricky to blog about marketing of politics without getting into political battles – so let me be clear I am looking at this strictly from a marketing point of view.

I am curious what the term “Hockey Mom’ brings up in people’s minds. When I went to Wikipedia and typed in Hockey Mom I was redirected to Soccer Mom. Hmmm…that’s interesting. Are they the same thing?

Dan Rodicks from the Baltimore Sun has some interesting insight into Hockey Moms.   He  points out this main difference:

Soccer moms get to attend their children’s games in the great outdoors, often in warm sunshine. Hockey moms rise early, in the dark morning hours of a winter Saturday or Sunday, and drive their hockey-playing children to an ice rink in time for an 8:00 am game, which occurs indoors, under the dim lights of cold hockey rinks.

Here’s my main question – when voters hear the term “Hockey Mom” will they relate to it? Will they have a positive connation? A negative connotation?  And how do they feel about a “Hockey Mom” holding one of the most powerful positions in the country?

I honestly don’t know how using the Hockey Mom label will affect the public’s perception of Sarah Palin.    I do think it’s interesting that so many of the news organizations picked up on that label.  Seriously – Google “hockey mom” and see almost every result is a story about Sarah Palin.

What do you think?  Will identifying herself as a Hockey Mom help or hurt her political image?  No matter what your political affiliation – you have to admit – this has been one of the most interesting campaigns from a marketing standpoint.    Fascinating.   I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

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Comments (32)

  1. I do believe that Palin also used the term “pit bull” when describing hockey moms. I would love to see an analysis of that term. To me, the term pit bull suggests someone who will go after what she wants and will tear apart and destroy the opposition in a very vicious manner. Would love to hear a marketing professionals take on that term.

  2. Strictly from a Marketing point of view, perhaps “Hockey Mom” is simply a good PR / Search move?

    Admittedly, I never found (Marketing) value in the “Soccer Mom” thing but from my perspective, a Hockey Mom as a “demo” isn’t any different from a Soccer Mom. The warm / cold thing from the reporter seems like an effort to find a deeper meaning than is really there.

    “Hockey Mom” as a PR tactic simply borrows whatever awareness “Soccer Mom” has (would anybody care about this if the Soccer Mom label didn’t pre-exist pervasively?) and because Hockey Mom is different, creates Buzz & Search. And that’s the main job of political campaigns – to get people talking!

    Anybody think there is a real or implied difference between a Hockey Mom and a Soccer Mom? If so, love to hear about it.

  3. I, too, found that nearly every reference to Hockey Mom on the Internet was to Sarah Palin. My antennae went up (of course!) at the use of the term during her VP announcement last Friday. Then I found it interesting that it was turned on its head last night with her speech, when she said the only difference between a Hockey Mom and a pit bull was lipstick. While the RNC audience loved her for it (and it WAS a great line), I think it unintentionally defined Hockey Mom as something very different from the Soccer Mom stereotype (as Arlene notes above). Neither one works in my estimation, but only the election results will bear that out.

    It will be interesting to see if they continue to use that term throughout the rest of the campaign… the perception she created in last night’s speech could very well create a backlash.

  4. Well, I do not follow American politics; I barely follow my own Canadian stories, but I do believe that I know what the implied (and I do mean IMPLIED) difference between the 2 stereotypes are: A soccer mom bakes cookies, is on the school council and is very supportive no matter what. A hockey mom is very assertive, willing to go all out for her children and believes that the only way to be successful is to win or get bruised up trying. This is perhaps why the “pit bull with lipstick” remark was made.

  5. IMO, “hockey mom” implies a more blue-collar type orientation, as opposed to the middle-class or even upper-middle-class connotations of “soccer mom”.

  6. Could it be much simpler than all this? Sarah Palin’s from ALASKA. Tough to play soccer there weather-wise for much of the year. Seems she could just be making herself more approachable, saying that “us folks in Alaska are just like you folks in the lower 48″.

    Since the traditional role of a Vice Presidential candidate is to be the “attack dog” role while the Presidential candidate stays largely above the fray, perhaps the whole hockey = tough, pitbulls = tough/vicious thing is just a way to say “I can take it and dish it right back at you”

    I’m interested to see how this all plays out, new terms like this tend to get defined and redefined soon after they’re introduced. As Holly points out, I’ve never encountered a woman who self-identified as a Soccer Mom. Maybe Hockey Mom will be different?

  7. I feel bad for all those Canadian and Midwestern “hockey moms” who aren’t gun-toting, “drill, baby, drill” fundamentalist ideologues who mock community organizers despite the fact that they praise one each Sunday. Thanks to Palin, “hockey moms” now have their very own branding problem. As of last night, “hockey mom” means you’re:

    -willfully ignorant of foreign affairs
    -a maverick (because you’re brave enough to support the party in power and “take on the oil companies” by pandering to them)
    -a polar bear hater
    -a pit bull with lipstick (no comment)

    Yesterday, the morning after Palin spoke, I noticed a new contingent identifying themselves on the major newspaper websites and blogs: “Soccer Moms for Obama”. And let’s not forget the fact that Palin’s speech flooded the Obama/Biden campaign with $8 million in a single day. Perhaps not all “hockey moms” feel the same — or perhaps being a “hockey moms” says nothing other than

    On the other end of the spectrum, I’m not sure John Edwards shares much in common with the “jet skiing sons of mill workers”, that John Kerry represents the “windsurfers for truth” contingent, or that Barack Obama represents the “multi-ethnic basketball players raised by single moms”.

    The “hockey mom” ploy works with the holier-than-thou family values crowd because Palin’s spontaneously inventing what it means. In a very real sense, Palin owes her self-styled brand to The Soccer Mom Myth that Holly describes in her book — which is exactly why Palin should read it!

    Women — even suburban and rural white women, believe it or not — are more complex than these absurd demographics suggest. On the other hand, if you or someone you know are dumb enough to be pandered to for being a fellow “hockey mom”, you’re dumb enough to do just about anything, including voting for Sarah Palin.

  8. Get your shirts here

    My hockey mom can beat up your community organizer

  9. Actually, Robert, they were “hockey moms for Obama,” not “soccer moms for Obama.”

    Great points, though!

  10. Has Palin blown it? Images she has tried to create of herself create conflictive ideas in the minds of others. The “hockey mom” thing is wrong because it subscosciously clashes with reason: She can´t be mayor and later governor and claim she is a caring mother that takes the kids to hockey. Nor should she claim to be a moose hunter which implies she was goofing off when she was holding down a government salary. Nor shold she be speaking of her Christian values and say she is a “pitbull with lipstick”. “Pitbull” suggests ruthlessness while “lipstick” suggests sexism.
    That, added to her missleading statements on “the bridge to nowhere” her comments on fighting influence peddlers while she hired lobbyists when she was mayor and integrity while trying to fire her police chief all mess up her image.

  11. Hi Holly – great topic!

    I will follow your lead and not wander into political waters. This is my perception of the term ‘hockey mom’

    First, it’s colored by the frame of reference of ‘soccer mom’. so some of the same stereotypes carry over for me with ‘hockey mom’. That said, I perceive the differences which i think are very purposeful on the part the mccain/pallin marketing machine with the choice of ‘hockey’. The differences I perceive include; tough, independant, aggressive. I think these difference come from my different perceptions of soccer vs. hockey.

    To me, soccer is very athletic but not particularly “tough” and physical like football or hockey.

    Moms are moms, so my perceptions and/or stereotypes of mom are the same for both terms.

    It also comes off as very authentic. She really is a hockey mom and can probably back it up with experiences, stories or missing teeth. I think a lot of women (especially in politics) tried to label themselves as authentic ‘soccer moms’ in order to endear themselves to a certain segment, even if it wasn’t true.


  12. This was a cynical political ploy directed to the base of the Republican party and/or naive folks, to assure them she will always stand behind her man and is not a ‘uppity’(forgive me) or ‘liberal’ like those ‘Democratic’ women. Will it work? I suppose that depends on the ability of the American people to decipher this machivilian marketing ploy. Sarah Palin was not speaking to the majority of the American people, she was speaking code to the Republican Party base.

  13. Pundit Mama’s comment speaks volumes about the image of hockey mom. Why would a hockey mom or any other kind of mom want to beat up a community organizer? Spite, meanness, envy? Does it contribute to the good of the community.

    Her statement gives credence to the point about hockey moms being nothing more than reactionary, mean pit bulls with lipstick. If that’s the image “hockey mom” projects, the US is screwed if McCain/Palin get into office. Palin is too macho for her own good.

    It’s a nice slogan, but doesn’t translate for me into anything positive about how it will play out in national and world arenas. It’s just more of the shallow-minded, aggressive meanness that we have seen in action for the past eight miserable years.

    Is there such a thing as a hockey mom that will partner with community workers rather than bruise them?

  14. No one should say political opinions don’t run deep in the US. In a post specifically requesting comments on the marketing value of the Hockey Mom label, 40% of the responses have been overtly political. Sad.

    I think Pam has it right in suggesting that “hockey mom” has a blue-collar feel (as does hunting for many people). Part of the Republican party’s strategy is to portray Obama as an elitist. Buy marketing Palin as blue-collar, they subtly position Obama as not being blue-collar.

    Will it work? I think it will for some segments of the population, especially those voters who already have a negative opinion of Obama. The point of a VP nomination is to energize the base. Palin’s selection, her speech, and the ensuing political commentary have certainly done that.

    Also worth considering is the belief expressed by many political analysts that men will make the difference in this year’s election. In recent years, it has been suggested that Women were the deciding factor in who won/lost. Hockey (and hunting) certainly fit the male stereotype (true or not), particularly in states where Hockey is a popular sport, such as the Northeast and Midwest, which account for a significant percentage of electoral votes.

  15. Since I’m neither a Mom or Hockey fan – it doesn’t do much for me as a woman voter (aside from my other views.) So, I agree that it is intended as code to the GOP base. Traditional yet tough, but not too pushy (perhaps this is also why her husband is on every stage with her.)

    I also find it intriguing that while she’s supposed to be such a tough “maverick” woman – they have yet to let her out by herself. And, are leery of allowing the press access until the McCain campaign can be sure the press will be “respectful.” Puts her right back into the “little woman” category with all those big brave men protecting her.

    And, we all know that if the Democrats had referred to her as a pitbull with lipstick, the screaming could have been heard from here to Alaska and back.

    So, yes, it’s fascinating – and ain’t it amazin’ how the GOP all became feminists overnight! (as a commenter on another blog noted.)

  16. Ok. You people seriously have too much time on your hands. And you are inadvertently perpetuating preposterous non-issue political analysis. Let’s all try to focus on the important facts.

  17. Sarah,

    If you think word choice isn’t important, in this election or elsewhere, you’ve got much to learn about marketing. The way these candidates brand themselves — especially in Palin’s case, because she’s left us nothing to consider other than her own makeshift branding — is in fact a very important issue.

    Of course there are more important issues to discuss. But neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin is discussing them. And when they do, as was the case when Charles Gibson interviewed Palin the other night, they’re a disaster (e.g., “We don’t need another Cold War” but we “should include Georgia in NATO” even if that means “going to war” with Russia). For crying out loud, she bragged about being able to see Russia from parts of Alaska as proof of her foreign policy experience!

    But alas, this isn’t a political blog, it’s a marketing blog — hence the analysis on all these little non-issues like Hockey Momdom.

  18. I forgot to mention that she doesn’t know how to pronounce the word “nuclear”. Do we really need another one of those?

    Thanks to George Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (lest we forget), the U.S. has a very real branding problem that affects our image on the world stage as well as markets. It’s a serious problem.

  19. A former “Hockey Dad”, Todd Wilkinson, wrote an interesting column in this week’s (9/10/08) “Jackson Hole News and Guide”; he points out that Sarah Palin’s one liner re: Hockey Moms/ Pit bulls is a common expression to both US and Canadian hockey circles and claims this isn’t a noble breed and far from a compliment. On the contrary, he points out that these are aggressive, mouthy Moms known to scream the F bomb at the ref when their kid gets a penalty, or even encourage injuring and intimidating opponants in the name of winning. Team sports should teach a different lesson; sportsmanship, teamwork, winning and losing with dignity.

    “There’s nothing cute or quaint about a human pit bull” he writes. These hockey pit bull Moms have resulted in a “zero tolerance policy” for teams, coaches, parents and refs. Implemented by USA Hockey, the governing body of the sport. This basically means no swearing, taunting or throwing any objects .

    “Referring to oneself as a pit-bull parent is juvenile… . The mentality of pit bulls, which parts every crowd into sharply cut rows of either friends or mortal enemies, has never been good for youth athletics. Neither is it good for a divided country where a lack of civility in discourse is degrading our society. The metaphors we invoke to describe ourselves to the world speak a lot about how we see ourselves” . I wonder if John McCain approved her message.

  20. Actually, I’ve read about several pit bull owners being very upset with the comparison, especially in the wake of the Michael Vick scandal. Some have even claimed that their beloved dogs are better qualified to be a 72-year-old-McCain-heartbeat-away from the presidency than Sarah Palin.

  21. I believe it will only matter to “Low Information Voters or The sound bite crowd” i.e., people who don’t follow the issues or only watch corporate news. As a woman I believe it’s a demeaning term signaling subservience much like saying I’m just a mom (I won’t rock the boat) making her non-threatening. I suppose if you don’t pay attention you might think she’s non-threatening. Some FACTS below

    *On Charlie Rose she said she was not apposed to war with Russia.
    *She believes Roe vs. Wade should be overturned. Her daughter had the right to choose to keep her baby or abortion but the rest of us (women) can’t think for ourselves and should be denied that right.
    *She wants to rape Anwar Alaska for Oil, when we don’t need more oil production. The big oil companies stopped refining oil to jack-up the prices. Read the Report: It’s Not About Supply, Stupid – It’s About Regulating the Profiteers, by David Sirota
    *She believes God sent us to war in Iraq. PALIN says HOCKEY MOM, I say NEO-CON.

  22. Thanks Louise. And Palin says nu-cu-lar. Geez- just what we need.

  23. i dont see any difference between hockey mom and soccer mom. I mean there are 2 different sports, but they ARE sports. But, we all have to admit that Sarah is really good at campaign strategies, and my answer is yes i belive it will help her in the political career

  24. Sarah Palin isn’t “good at campaign strategies.” Sarah Palin IS a campaign strategy.

  25. I’m a soccer mom and a dog rescuer (yes, 2 pit bulls over the years). Palin’s image is not one that I want anywhere near the White House or in the news. I think she could have been a better Mom if she wasn’t in politics and had a 8 to 5′er like so many of us have.

    If they wanted to attaract Democratic Women, I think they missed the boat.

  26. One other thing about hockey: it’s pretty much an all-white sport.

    What salience, if any, that has in Ms. Palin’s self-branding is anybody’s guess.

  27. Well as we all learned from this 2008 lesson; Hockey moms aren’t very well informed on world topics! I’d love to see a true soccer mom be the next runner up. That would be far better than a fake hockey mom.

  28. A “Hockey Mon” or a “Soccer Mom” is a term used to describe an uneducated woman who could not amount to anything in life so she chose to have children instead.

  29. I haven’t considered such things, but after I read this post, I think it’s really interesting.

  30. Patricia, if everyone thought like you the world would be dead in 50 years. With a population of zero! Anyone can amount to something and being a mother is a great thing. And, btw, most mothers are educated.

  31. i guess the hockey mom didn’t quite win the sympathy of the soccer moms.

  32. @Hank Curtis
    You say the “hockey mom” thing is wrong because “it clashes with reason.” How so?

    “She can´t be mayor and later governor and claim she is a caring mother that takes the kids to hockey.” Why is that? Are all people who hold positions in government bad parents? Or just Sarah Palin?

    “Nor should she claim to be a moose hunter which implies she was goofing off when she was holding down a government salary.” Doesn’t make sense either. People CAN have jobs and go hunting/camping or have other hobbies that they do while not working, y’know.

    Again, there is no reason why her Christian values should rationally interfere with her statements that she is a “pitbull with lipstick”. “Pitbull” suggests ruthlessness, but “lipstick” suggesting sexism is… well, let’s just say that is not what comes to my mind.


    “And Palin says nu-cu-lar. Geez- just what we need.”

    Again, all I see is elitism and the pronunciation has very little to do with… anything, really.

    I see a lot of people demeaning Miss Palin for her comments, her manner of speech, and oddly enough, her being a woman. Indeed, recently hate is the norm of any conversation I have here in the Bay Area.

    I will admit that perhaps her nomination for VP was indeed a cynical- and misguided- attempt by the GOP elite to win over Hillary supporters.

    However, none of this gives license to the bashing Mrs. Palin has received. Some of you have even stooped as low as to insult the lady for being just that: a lady.

    I quote:
    “While she’s supposed to be such a tough “maverick” woman – they have yet to let her out by herself. And are leery of allowing the press access until the McCain campaign can be sure the press will be “respectful.” Puts her right back into the “little woman” category with all those big brave men protecting her.”

    Shame on you, ridiculing what used to be chivalry in the name of raining hell on Palin for her honest and true feminism.

    But I digress. This is a marketing and advertising blog, and a fact-based one at that. Political speculations are pointless and irrelevant. That is all.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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