I’ve been calling out dad-bias in commercials for years now, and really wanted to put the nail in the coffin. So I watched, noted and rated 140 commercials in 2013 that featured fathers as main characters. And if I was looking for a fight…man, I couldn’t have done it at a worse time. There, I said it.
A popular conversation among dad bloggers is the treatment of fathers in the media, specifically, dads in commercials. Dad bloggers often sit around in their secret online societies and discuss exactly how bad dads look in commercials. Most of the time, you’ll hear a resounding “fathers are made to look like idiots!” And being a guy who’s flamed many a brand that poked fun at dads (and also congratulated a couple), I wanted to really commit time and effort into seeing exactly how many commercials I could find that treated dads poorly. I really wanted to hold up my list of commercials to the world and say “SEE?! Look at how commercials treat dads! We should riot!”
And then my results actually surprised me.
First of all, there’s no bait-and-switch here. Let me be clear: I’m telling you right now that by my own ranking system, far less than half of the commercials were actually rated as having a bad image of fathers. And I’ve got a reasonable guess as to why.
The Back Story
2012 was a rough year. I’ve already linked to a couple of the articles that I’d written, criticizing brands for anti-dad behaviors and imagery. But our quick naughty list for 2012 went something like this: Sears, Clorox, Huggies, Hyundai, Oscar Mayer, Triaminic, Toyota and Doritos. Some of the commercials weren’t without contest; ask one guy if it’s anti-dad and he’ll say “yes”, ask another and he’ll shrug it off.
But check this out – 82% of men whose oldest kid is less than 2 years old believe an anti-dad societal bias exists, according to a 2012 Parenting Group and Edelman survey. BTW, the average for that belief among all dads is 66%.
“It’s important to pay attention to ads, because they’re everywhere,” notes Doug French, Co-founder of XY Media Group. “They dominate (and supposedly mirror) our culture, and they’re powerful enough to overturn negative stereotypes, or entrench them.” XY Media Group is a consultancy that connects brands with today’s men, and the parent company of the Dad 2.0 Summit. They make sure that brands are hearing the growing voice of modern fathers.
So, in 2012, after some brands failed, they started listening. Then brands did something that would impact the future: they talked to dad bloggers; Kimberly-Clark talked to dad bloggers (for Huggies). Clorox talked to dad bloggers. Oscar Mayer read some angry tweets and went back to sleep. But I digress. The point is, brands were listening.
“73% of men feel they are inadequately portrayed in advertising,” said Rob Candelino in a presentation at the 2013 Dad 2.0 Summit. Candelino, the Vice President of skincare division at Unilever, knows something about listening to men and fathers. That’s why his team – the one behind Dove Men+Care – has been enthusiastically found at the heart of the conversation about dads and commercials, including being the title sponsor at the Dad 2.0 Summit, a conference with the goal of, among other things, “an open conversation about the commercial power of dads online.”
Candelino’s not alone. When Huggies dissed dads, they listened to the feedback online, then took to the phones to see what dads really wanted. Huggies overlord Kimberly-Clark sent representatives to the Dad 2.0 Summit as well, and got in on the conversation about dads. The result was wonderful: Huggies made more commercials the involved loving, intelligent dads that solved problems, not just relied on wives to wipe up their mess.
So in many ways, 2012 was a tough year for dads in commercials, but it yielded results. And if you ask me, which you didn’t, the results are tangible and were reflected in my project.