Auntie Up! The Power of the Aunt as Primary Gift Giver





 Savvy Auntie

Melanie Notkin is the founder and CEO of the award-winning and creator of the popular Savvy Auntie lifestyle brand – the phenomenon heralded by fabulous kid-friendly women everywhere as a celebration of modern, cosmopolitan aunthood.  Melanie certainly makes a case for why toy companies should be including Aunts in their marketing plans.

I can remember clearly the moment I first saw my nephew, minutes-old in my brother’s arms. Everything changed for me in that moment. I immediately fell madly, unconditionally in love. And I made a promise to myself to love this child, safeguard this child, and do whatever I could to make this child happy. Since then, my nephew has welcomed several little sisters, my amazing nieces, and my love has grown.

At the time my nephew was born, I was a senior executive at a global beauty company. I had an extraordinary life. I would travel for business to Paris one week and lead a meeting with the CEO the next. But as savvy as I was in my cosmopolitan lifestyle, I was not savvy about the things children need and love. As much as I love children, I made gaffs simply because I didn’t have the resources moms and dads do. So, for example, when I handed my then two- year-old niece a beautiful doll from Paris, she was disappointed that it wasn’t Dora. But back then, I had no clue who Dora The Explorer was! And my nephew, who was growing up to love classic boy toys … well as a woman, what did I really know about boy toys? I felt like I was disappointing them time and time again.

This experience was part of the inspiration for, the award-winning lifestyle brand I launched four years ago this week, as the primary resource for cool aunts, great-aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids. Interestingly, nearly half of all American women – 47.1% – are childless. That’s a steep rise from just 35% in 1976. While the majority of women do eventually go on to be mothers, we’re having children later than ever before. In fact, 46% of women ages 25-29 are not (yet) moms and 14% of first-time moms are age 35 or older. And one in five women ages 40-44 are not (yet) moms, for a number of valid reasons. We’ve stretched out the time between adolescence and motherhood by decades! And that leaves a lot of devoted time, and discretionary income, to spend on our nieces and nephews by relation and our nieces and nephews by choice (our friends’ children).

I established the Savvy Auntie lifestyle brand to give aunts the tools and resources they need to be Savvy Aunties – and the credit they deserve for their generosity of time and income toward the children Aunties Day Poster_Happy Aunties Day_2012_1 (2)1in their lives which is often overlooked. For instance, in my best-selling book, Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow, April 2011), I introduce the concept of “QualAuntie Time.” The time an aunt spends with a child-not-her-own is most often dedicated playtime.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour of uninterrupted playtime for young children to help with their cognitive, emotional and social development, not to mention fine motor skill and language development. That precious hour is very challenging for a parent to find for their children. But Auntie? She’s carved out time specifically to visit and play with her nieces and nephews. And simply by playing, they are developing!

Naturally, playtime often includes toys, and so in 2009, I established the annual Savvy Auntie Coolest Toy Awards to help aunts and other secondary caregivers become aware of the key drivers of the holiday season. I tour the toy industry fairs and meet with the brands directly in between. I also look at how the industry is doing closer to the fourth quarter; I investigate which toys are trending well and which are the sleepers of the year. After all, giving our nieces and nephews the toys they want (and their parents approve of) is our prerogative as aunts! We may be secondary caregivers, but we’re primary gift givers!

And yet, for the most part, the toy industry has neglected this segment I’ve dubbed PANK Professional Aunt No Kids, which includes some of the highest educated and highest household income earners in the country. As Mary Lou Quinlan, a foremost expert on marketing to women and CEO, Just Ask A Woman, says, these Savvy Aunties are “overlooked and overloved.”

The women of this new marketing frontier want to be the cool, Savvy Aunties who know which toys will put a smile on our nieces’ and nephews’ faces – not because we asked their parents – but because the toy industry has recognized our role and engaged with us directly.  In effect, our hearts and wallets are open at birthdays, holidays, and just about any day that allows us an opportunity to make our nieces and nephews happy. After all, that was the promise we made the day they were born.

The fourth annual Auntie’s Day is Sunday, July 22. Consider a Tweet with #AuntiesDayJuly22 to let the Savvy Aunties know they are acknowledged and appreciated for all that they do for the children in their lives. They deserve it. “Aunthood is a Gift. This Day is Theirs.”

For further information about the PANK market and how to reach this new marketing frontier, contact me at

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