The Super Bowl, widely regarded as a yearly who’s-who of commercials, proved once again that fathers have a couple of things to piss and moan about in the “dadvertising” world, but that little-by-little, dads are being imagined better. This year, we saw seven major commercials featuring a father in a main role. The result shows an across-the-spectrum image of fathers. This, actually, is a win for dads, believe it or not.
Here, we’ll take a look at the commercials with an honest approach, attempting to let slide what truly doesn’t matter, and getting worked up over all of the right things.
First, let’s take a look at a couple of the standout good commercials, since I know you’re going to lose interest in a couple of paragraphs.
Kia Sorrento “Space Babies”:
In this commercial, a family is on a drive when the son asks his father where babies come from. Dad fumbles through an answer, and when the son begins to mention what he’s heard from his friend, dad is able to quickly play a song to redirect the conversation.
Usually, we dislike the image of a stuttering dad that doesn’t know how to answer his kids’ questions. But not once did dad say “ask your mother” in this commercial, and not once was the father at a loss for words. Even better – the father’s story was worded in a way that kept the concept clean, but used loaded wording and imagery (space ships all headed toward Earth, ready to “penetrate”, babies “released all over the place”) to relay the sexual nature of how babies are made. Mom and dad give each other smiling, knowing looks, and neither parent looks dumb. It’s a great ad for everyone.
A Close Second
Hyundai Santa Fe “Epic Playdate”:
The spot opens with a family around a breakfast table. One of the kids asks his father, “what are we going to do today?” What follows is the stuff of imagination: shredding at a skate park (with helmets!), an offroad romp in the mud, some mischief at a museum, a highway biker pursuit, a petting zoo visit gone wrong, giant-ball-lawn-bowling, and then some Flaming Lips tie-ins (which felt forced, but whatever). The family returns home, another kid asks what they’ll do NOW, and dad responds, “well, I think there’s a game on.”
You might remember me flaming Hyundai last year for their Azera commercial in which a kitchen-bound panicked dad fumbles around, losing control of his house, while mom lies about her whereabouts from within their car in the driveway. It was a terrible display of father-mother teamwork, and had no place in the book of dadvertising.
The “Epic Playdate” spot is better than last year’s in every way. The commercial captures the trend advertisers are grasping onto with dads: the fun-loving rule-breaker. While in previous years, advertisers were happy to use dads as the butt of a joke, in-line with the kids, commercials are starting to portray fathers not as a big, sneaky kid that ultimately is singled out for immaturity, but as the “fun” one that is able to elevate situations to ridiculous proportions. This commercial is all good fun, and overall, a positive image of dads. And, much like the Kia spot, neither parent looks dumb at the end. Big improvement since last year.
An Alright One
Milk Campaign “Super Bowl XLVII TV Commercial”
There’s not much to say about the Milk Campaign’s commercial, starring The Rock. In it, his daughter and her friends need milk, so The Rock hits the streets to get some. He passes by a warzone of things that we can only assume The Rock would be able to fix, if only he weren’t on a mission to get his daughter milk. It’s great to see that The Rock’s daughter is this important to him as a father, but the commercial sure is snoresville.
The Neutral One:
Pepsi NEXT “Party”
In Pepsi NEXT’s commercial, a boy throws a party with hundreds of people packed into his house, and chaos ensues. Someone screams “PARENTS” as mom and dad make their way through the crowd to their son. The son, in his panic, hands his parents cans of Pepsi NEXT (which is a totally legit move when your parents catch you partying), and dad is stunned to find out that Pepsi NEXT contains less sugar with all the cola taste.
The description will be longer than the verdict. This commercial is boring, obvious, and doesn’t at all do anything – good or bad – for dads.
Audi S6 “Prom”
In this spot, a timid boy comes of age on prom night, when his dad tosses him the keys to his Audi S6. The car gives him a sense of power. The son then burns a limo off the line on the way to prom (as if that’s any sort of triumph), parks in the spot labeled “principal only”, makes his way into the school, through the crowded gym, up to the prom queen, grabs her and kisses her. Prom comes to a halt, and the boy speeds home with a black eye, in the fast lane.
Look, I don’t want to be stuffy or argumentative, but this is old school car advertising at its best/worst: it’s dad handing the keys to his son, and the son playing big shot. The tagline of the commercial is “Bravery. It’s what defines us.” But nothing here seemed brave. There was nothing brave about the limo move. There’s nothing brave about parking in the principal’s parking spot. There’s nothing brave about kissing a woman against her will. And though by the end of the kiss, you see a satisfied look on the prom queen’s face, you can’t help but feel like – “ouch, we know better than that nowadays.”
Audi could have made this boy go from zero-to-hero by subtle acts. He could have helped the prom queen out of her limo when the prom king walks off to high five his friends. He could have given the prom queen a glass of punch when the prom king walks off with his own, neglecting her. He could have taken off his coat and offered it to the prom queen when then prom king, seeing his date shivering, tries to kiss her, then laughs and high fives his friends. Or, all three. The kid would still get to drive home with a satisfying black eye, but I wouldn’t have to feel like I just watched a girl get sexually harassed at prom in the name of “bravery.”
(Audi, drop me an e-mail for the full commercial treatment and where you can send my check)
To paraphrase a couple of comments on The Philly Post article by Joel Mathis about this commercial: the message I got from the Audi commercial was that the car will turn you into a jerk, and that’s pretty consistent with what I’ve experienced with the typical Audi driver.
Toyota RAV4 “Wish Granted”
In the RAV4 spot, a family gets out of their car, and upon the father polishing the bumper, the RAV4 genie emerges and asks what their wishes are. Dad wants his “spare tire” gone, but instead of the one around his waist, the genie zaps away the RAV4’s conveniently-located spare tire. Get it? Spare tire? The commercial continues into a blah-blah-snore of wishes. The daughter wants to hear animals talk. The mom wants to be able to eat a lot of chocolate (wow, really going after both parents here, aren’t you, Toyota?). The son wants to be an astronaut. The daughter, a princess (to avenge her father’s death, to which he meekly answers “I’m right here”). In the end, dad gets to get rid of his extra weight – the hard way, jogging, while the genie hovers above the back of the RAV4 with a bullhorn. Ouch.
There’s not much to say about the commercial, except that both parents get dissed here and made to look like caricatures. “While I don’t think that this was necessarily a negative image of dad,” said our man-crush Matt Peregoy, in his Super Bowl commercial roundup, “it definitely wasn’t the most positive.”
Doritos “Fashionista Dad”
In “Fashionista Dad”, a young girl is in her all-pink-princess room, and seeing her father walk by, asks if he’ll play with her. Dad’s clearly on his way outside to play football with his friends, but when his daughter takes out a bag of Doritos, dad starts thinking. We then see dad’s friends walk by in the hallway, just in time to see dad dancing with his daughter, in a dress and makeup, eating Doritos. Mom then comes home, sees dad and all of his friends dancing in dresses eating Doritos. Mom gives the “oh god, it’s like I have seven kids” look, and walks off.
Advertisers love to imagine all fathers as hungry, sports-loving guys who fear anything feminine. And, while it’s true that imagery like that is best served up during the Super Bowl, it still doesn’t make it completely comforting as a trope.
I mean, please. I’m a grown-ass man and I love Doritos. But if I want them (which I frequently do), I buy them. Myself. The father here is like Pavlov’s dog, who when he sees a bag of Doritos, becomes insanely hungry, enough to dress up like a princess for his daughter. The message here is: dads, we know you hate playing with your daughters, and that if you wear anything feminine, your penis will shrivel up and fall off…but I bet the taste of Doritos will trick you into it.
Everything’s wrong with this idea.
And did you notice? Mom comes home at the end of the commercial with a grocery bag in her hands. So, wait. Dad was going to go outside, leave his – what, 6 year old? – daughter to play alone? Matt Peregoy notes, “This is not a big problem if mom is home to step in while dad has friends over, but as we see at the end of the commercial, it appears that mom was out shopping, so dad was going to leave his young daughter unattended in the house while he played football outside with the guys. This is not a good parenting decision.”
Peregoy then says that if mom walked by the door without a grocery bag in her hands, it’d remedy the situation. Good eye, Matt!
It doesn’t take a kid to realize that this commercial is backwards. But just in case you needed an actual kid, mom blogger Liz Gumbinner asked her seven year old daughter what she thought happened in the commercial. Paraphrasing her daughter:
It was about a girl who wanted to play princess with her dad…they never get to play together because he’d rather play football. She offered him Doritos. And he liked Doritos so much that he would play with her.
See? When the Junior Gumbinner was asked what the lesson of the commercial is, she answered, “you should always do something nice for somebody else and not have to give them something to do it.”
See? A seven year old gets it. Why don’t advertising execs?
So how are my uneven results considered a “win” for fathers? Well, because when advertisers don’t have a strict and consistent caricature that they’re using for fathers, it means that the message is changing. Look, I won’t try to convince you that every dad out there is a wonderful, loving, involved dad.
I won’t even try to convince you that I, myself am always a perfect dad. I deny my son sometimes when he wants to play. I sometimes don’t have all the answers about life and babies. I sometimes am just the hungry guy that would do anything for a Klondike bar. But what the world needs is advertisers playing up the good, not the bad. We don’t need more overbearing mom commercials and we don’t need more dumb dad commercials.
We need more commercials where dad is doing laundry, making lunch for the kids, or vacuuming, without it being pointed out like an anomaly.
So for Super Bowl XLVII, seeing a bunch of different concepts of fatherhood is a win. If advertisers don’t know which image to put their money on, it means the image of idiot dads is on the way out. Next year, I expect even more commercials featuring strong fathers. Advertisers, consider that a dare.