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March 7, 2013 — Today’s dads are more engaged in parenting than in generations past, some as a result of being underemployed in the postrecession economy and others because they say being an involved caregiver makes life more meaningful. More men state they shop for groceries, cook dinner, do the laundry and clean than ever before. Their spouses claim their perception of participation is inflated, but either way, moms are slowly learning to trust their men with everything from the mop to making family meals.

And mom isn’t the only one who has her eye on dad. Marketers are sizing up the opportunity and realizing that billions of dollars are at stake. Supermarkets, manufacturers of baby products, washing machines and vacuum cleaners, and other home appliance sellers are embracing the power of dad. In fact, some companies are helping moms and dads transition into these new roles with ease. They are giving men the confidence they need to perform and reducing any spousal stress about their mate’s domestic abilities. The impetus for P&G’s Tide Pods? You guessed it — dad. Women said they felt stressed about delegating laundry duty. The pods — single-dose pouches of detergent — eliminate the need for pouring and measuring — easing worries some moms have that dad will use too much or too little. Another delegating-to-dad tool? The Bounce Dryer Bar, a fabric softener installed in the dryer that lasts for months.

As men take on more responsibility, they don’t appreciate being portrayed as helpless on the homefront. More often than not they serve as the incompetent foil to mom’s expertise. When portraying shifting parenting roles, getting the tone just right isn’t always easy — a reality the Huggies diapers brand discovered when it launched a marketing campaign titled “The Ultimate Test: Dads.” The idea was to prove that “Huggies can handle anything,” including putting dads in charge of watching a basketball game and their babies. The twist, however, was dad’s failing to report for diaper duty because he was too engrossed in the game. Dad’s reaction to this stereotypical portrayal was swift and deep, and a wave of negative reaction stained the brand’s Facebook page. And, let’s face it: Most dads probably don’t need Post-It notes scattered throughout the house from their kids to remind them to pack the Go-Gurt. While the intent is to show how much kids love Go-Gurt, the spot comes pretty close to alienating the dad target it hopes to reach.

Some marketers are getting it right, though. Featuring dad as a capable figure has been quite successful for Kellogg’s Co. Its campaign for Frosted Flakes features the line, “Share what you love with who you love,” and sports images of dads playing sports with their kids and brand mascot Tony the Tiger. P&G paired a modern dad with a celebrity pitchman for Vicks VapoRub, featuring New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In the spot, we see Brees applying the salve to the chest of his real-life son, Baylen, before crashing in his twin bed so he could keep an eye on him through the night. Even Tide featured a stay-at-home dad in a commercial, a first in the brand’s 65+ year history.

We at Frank About Women, think it’s refreshing to see an image of a dad packing his son’s lunch or doing laundry with his daughter. It’s such an improvement over their being shown as bumbling idiots who couldn’t do anything properly. As advertisers who control the image of dad that we portray, we must be mindful of these evolving roles and the self-image and dignity that accompany them.

Anne Elwell About the Author
Anne Elwell Former Group Account Director

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