From Bumbling Dad to Human Being: How advertisers are finally giving dads their due


This post originally appeared on the Sklar Wilton & Associates blog.

As a kid, my dad played catch with me every day after work in the summer, took me to swimming lessons every weekend in the winter, made me wiener soup for lunch when my mom spent a day doing her own thing, and spent hours with me picking elective classes in highschool (history, because I was going to be the next Indiana Jones). I personally can’t relate to the bumbling dads portrayed in ads I watched growing up.

To a far greater extent five and ten years ago, men have been portrayed as incompetent fathers who couldn’t properly feed a child or do simple cleaning tasks around the home. That historical model in the marketing space used to match some segments in real life such that it made no sense to extend parental leave to dads – it was presumed that dads couldn’t take care of the kids and the home anyways. It made no sense to strive for equality in the workplace when there seemed to be none in the home. As the saying going, you cannot do what you cannot see.

However, a study released by Statistics Canada shows that men’s roles in the family have changed starkly over the last forty years, particularly in terms of how many dads are stay-at-home dads. Compared to 1976 when stay-at-home-dads were 1 in 70 of all stay-at-home parent families, today that number is 1 in 10. If you consider households where the mom is employed, nearly 11% of dads today are the caregivers compared to only 1.4% forty years ago (see chart). It’s a consistent trend across all of Canada. If they ever truly were bumbling dads, dads today are regular human beings doing regular child-rearing and home case activities. Dads are changing diapers, buying groceries, cooking meals, cleaning toilets, and are viable audiences and target groups for pretty much every product category. These are all real spaces for companies to grow their business simply by reaching out to their current audience, not just their historical audience.

Advertising leaders in the United Kingdom also have a hard time relating to the stereotype of the bumbling dad and they have decided to do something about it. The Advertising Standards Authority released a report exploring harm arising from media gender stereotypes that “relate to body image, objectification, sexualisation, gender characteristics and roles, and mocking people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.” The organization intends to create new standards for ads that incorporate stereotypical behaviours. For instance, ads that might not meet the new standards include those that:

  • Depict family members creating a mess while a woman has the sole responsibility for cleaning it up.
  • Suggest that an activity is inappropriate for a girl because it is stereotypically associated with boys or vice versa.
  • Feature a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks

In another initiative, Unilever, UN Women, Mars, and Alibaba have bound together in the ‘Unstereotype Alliance’ to do their part to stop stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising. In their research , Unilever’s chief marketing and communications Officer Keith Weed notes that progressive ads are 25% more effective and deliver “better branded impact.”

It’s been truly heartwarming to see brands plan for this change and make huge strides in response to the evolution of gender roles. Over the last couple of years, brands have begun to make great efforts to ensure their ads are more representative of the current population, They are focusing more on the way things really are today as opposed to taking the easy way out by using the stereotypes that have existed for innumerable decades.

When it comes to gender, and dads in particular, newer ads have begun to focus on men and dads not as lazy, ignorant bystanders or handsome supermodels with ripped abs, but rather as equal partners taking on their share of responsibilities in the home, and as human beings who genuinely care about the other people in their lives. Newer ads present dads in a manner that reflect today’s reality. Dads who don’t have time to go to the gym every day because they’re taking kids to hockey practices, piano lessons, and library sessions. Dads who turn on the oven and feed the kids while mom puts her feet up after a long day behind the welding visor.

Tide has fully embraced this trend with its television commercials. For instance, in this commercial, though mom and dad are packing suitcases together, it’s the dad who is first to speak up and take action when his daughter, and then his son, needs some last minute laundry done.

This Motts Fruitsations commercial shows a dad taking on the grocery shopping duties. Not only is he caring for his baby at the same time as every mom has always does, he is fully aware of what his other children are up over the rest of the week including their karate and gymnastics classes, and sleepovers.

This Dove commercial shows many dads including their young children, both boys and girls, in a huge range of non-stereotypical activities. From dancing with them in front of the TV, gleefully terrifying them in a plane or race car, pushing their wheelchair through a skateboard park, or saving them from crashing after a fall, these dads share joy and passion with their young ones regardless of whether ‘girls do that’ or ‘boys do that.’

And, if you need something to wipe away the tears and put some fun into your soul, enjoy this last commercial from Ikea. The young boy is clearly disappointed when he tells his dad that mom cooked macaroni all week. And of course, dad saves the day with a beautifully prepared meal. You’ll just have to watch the rest of the ad to see the conclusion!

I quite love these new portrayals of dads in the media. It’s a great reminder that stereotypes don’t always reflect current trends. Sometimes you need to really push beyond tradition to reach the broader set of your consumers. If you’d like cast aside stereotypes and find out who your consumers of today are, we’d love to help you. Please get in touch!

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This post was written in my role as a consultant for Sklar Wilton & Associates. SW&A has worked for more than 30 years with some of Canada’s most iconic brands to help them grow their brand, shape corporate culture, build successful innovation, define portfolio strategies, and maximize research ROI. They offer strategic advice, business facilitation, research management, qualitative/quantitative research, and analytics. SW&A was recognized as a Great Workplace for Women in 2018, and the Best Workplace in Canada for Small Companies in 2017 by the Great Place To Work® Institute. Inquire about their services here.

 

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