Latest Procter & Gamble Ad Shows Some Advertisers Still Don’t Care About Dads

Yesterday, someone forwarded me this commercial, shown above, for Procter & Gamble. It is an exceptional ad and one that hits parents right in their hearts because, whether or not you are a fan of sport, it is a message that all parents can identify with — the reward we receive when we help our kids get back up after they fall down and our joy in seeing them succeed.

However, watching the video, something sticks out pretty awkwardly. Like Procter & Gamble did prior to the Olympics in 2010 and again in 2012, this video is part of a feel-good campaign that focuses solely on moms. And just like the other commercials before it, it ends with the tagline “Proud sponsor of Moms.”

Huh?

Are the Olympics an event tied to moms? Is it almost Mother’s Day? The Olympics seems like a pretty neutral event. Why is Procter & Gamble not thanking both parents? How can an ad about a bunch of kids growing from infants to Olympic athletes not mention (or even show) any dads? It would be one thing if the video focused on a single mom or even if it showed dads supporting the kids alongside the mothers. But to focus on moms as the only ones helping their kids on the road to Olympic success stings just a bit.

Before going any further, we recognize that being a mother is very admirable and far more difficult than being a dad in many ways. Women are incredibly remarkable and they should be thanked for all they do for their children. We adore moms here at GeekDad and we’ve always had women on our staff. Because, despite our paternalistic URL, we recognize that parenting is easiest when done as a team, whenever possible. That’s not what this is about. This is a commercial about the lives of many children and nowhere in this advertisement do we see a single dad.

In today’s society, families meet more definitions than in the past. Kids might be raised in a family with a single parent. Some athletes, Olympic and otherwise, are surely raised in families where the dad is the primary caregiver. Heck, in some single-dad and gay families, there are kids who don’t have a day-to-day mom. In P&G’s world, who would an Olympic athlete have to thank in that case?

We think the answer is not just the moms, but the parents. Yes, moms traditionally spend more time with kids than dads, but that is changing quickly. Setting aside the data that shows that more dads are staying at home to care for their kids as the primary caregivers, even more of us buck the traditional role of a dad. We clean and cook. We help with homework, shop, act as chauffeurs, play with our kids, and are involved in every facet of our kids’ and our families’ lives. We are nurturing and capable and we look at parenting as an equal-partner responsibility.

A change that’s taken far too long to come along? That’s a fair criticism, but we weren’t parents 20 years ago.

Procter & Gamble’s gaffe here is representative of a bigger picture problem in marketing and advertising. Too often, in advertisements, fathers are portrayed as the equivalent of Homer Simpson or worse — invisible, treated as familial wallpaper, just a set decoration.

To watch many commercials, you’d think dads did nothing but sit on a couch while watching Sportscenter and drinking beer. We are depicted as being so incompetent, the simple act of making breakfast is beyond us. We supposedly are constantly acting like bozos, wrecking the house by letting mayhem rule supreme, only to scramble to hide evidence of our ineptitude before mom gets home.

The idea of dad as a bumbling idiot is outdated and inaccurate. It minimizes us and alienates us from your products.

However, we are beginning to see some change. Consider the Huggies diaper campaign a couple of years ago that depicted dads as hopeless and pretty indifferent to parenting. There was immense backfire from dads and moms alike and Huggies pulled the ads … and then went a step further. Huggies listened to their customers and retooled their advertising appropriately. Since that misstep, Huggies advertising has been very thoughtful and painted a more accurate picture of modern dads.

Still, it’s important to recognize that advertisements like P&G’s should not necessarily be misconstrued as a company’s political agenda. I don’t imagine that Procter & Gamble dislikes men and I’m certain they value us when it comes to shaving or whatever other products that their market research shows to affect their bottom line. I’m sure the same research shows that women are responsible for making most of the purchases of P&G products, which is why they came up with this campaign. Fine. Advertise to them. Just don’t pretend like dads don’t exist.

I’d like to say the days of “Choosy moms choose Jif” are over. But they aren’t. As long as the “Mommy Tech” section of the Consumer Electronics Show is dominated by washers and dryers and microwave ovens, maybe it’s time to admit we still have a long way to go.

In fact, I’m certain of it after watching one of Procter & Gamble’s other ads for their Swiffer product. In it, an older married couple, Lee and Morty, reminisce on their many years of marriage. Because of their age, their daughter and Morty worry about Lee doing the housework, a problem solved by a “surprise” package from Swiffer. It’s another effective ad, but in it, Lee is the only one helping out in the ad while Morty doesn’t do anything besides sit in his lounger. He just “makes dirt.” I’m willing to give them a bit of a pass because these defined roles may have been much more common during Lee and Morty’s generation, but they are certainly not reflective of today’s family.

It’s easy to throw stones and point fingers and not offer any solutions, but I’m not going to do that here. I’d imagine P&G might ask something along the lines of “what do you want then?” in response to this complaint. I’d just humbly request that dads be portrayed as guys who want to be engaged and take an active role in their families. We’re not always perfect, but we’re trying. We love our partners and we want to be treated equally, as we treat them equally. Go ahead and market to the segments you believe buy your products most often, just don’t trivialize or minimize us. And if you want an example of marketing to parents done properly, watch the following ad:

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About Dave Banks

I work. I play games. Sometimes I work at playing games.

About Dave Banks

I work. I play games. Sometimes I work at playing games.

19 thoughts on “Latest Procter & Gamble Ad Shows Some Advertisers Still Don’t Care About Dads

  1. Both of those commercials made me cry my eyes out, but the second one is undeniably better. It’s good for everyone when dads are shown as competent, equal partners at home.

  2. I just saw the Olympics ad yesterday for the first time, and while I thought it was touching, I found myself becoming more and more incredulous that dads don’t appear at all. One or two scenes, sure, but it quickly became apparent that dads weren’t just accidentally left out, but intentionally excised from the story, which seems really bizarre. It’s possible to celebrate moms without pretending dads don’t exist.

  3. Thanks so much for writing this. I’ve been feeling this way for years. I have three sons and have coached them in all their sports while my wife is the team mom and loudest cheerleader. Many dad’s are very involved in their childs lives and I am kind of being tired of portrayed as an uncaring idiot.

  4. Agreed. While this ad isn’t offensive in the way the Huggies ad was, it’s so exclusionary it just shouts “WE’RE ONLY INTERESTING IN SELLING TO MOMS.” You can just feel that the people involved were so focused on the “target demographic” they didn’t even consider how it might be viewed by those it ignores.

    Right now, this ad has taught me that P&G doesn’t care about the dad’s part of the family partnership, and doesn’t think we’re making the kind of buying decisions that will impact their bottom line. With this knowledge in mind, I’ll certainly plan on making some buying decisions that do.

  5. This bugs me constantly to the point where I pretty much gave up watching TV at all. The only ads I see now are on Hulu and frequently ignored. To make it worse, when guys are shown in ads it’s the converse of helpful, caring dads (or men) and they are shown with the cliched bumbling, idiot, never-left-college personality and usually drooling over junk food, women, or cars.

    Incidentally, I make about 98% of the household purchasing decisions for household goods like food and cleaning supplies. I also spend more time than my wife watching our kids and maintaining our home.

  6. Yes!
    The PG ad gave me emotional whiplash. I’m getting misty eyed then here comes the tagline and now I’m affronted and disgruntled and going to find my husband to let him know that if our kid does something amazing it’s all due to me and he’s just DNA source material. WTH?
    The incompetent bumbling man-child theme needs to go away for all the reasons you mentioned which are SO important but also this… It is just riding along on the cultural idea that women are either sexy props or mothers who clean and cook. Things are improving over all I think (hope) but it takes active decision making to show men as they are, competent, loving, nurturing, involved dads and more importantly people in general as a varied and complex not homogenized fake caricatures.
    Let’s see realistic depictions of people and life… It’s beautiful the way it is and will sell just as much maybe more than all the old over-used tropes.

  7. Somebody needs to do a mash-up of this ad and Apple’s “Misunderstood” ad where at the end you see that it’s all been shot by a dad on his smartphone who looked uninvolved and absent this whole time.

  8. I was discussing this with some of my Mom friends and they pointed out that while this is a good point, Mom’s (and women) struggle to be accurately represented in media. Let’s not even broach the topic of lack of strong female heroins and pay differentials in business. Should we grudge moms a little thanks here and there? I know the focus is on P&G, but they had a good point. Thoughts?

    • I agree that moms and women deserve to be celebrated. I think my main concern is that P&G’s ad company apparently feels that the way to celebrate moms is by taking dads out of the picture, rather than letting them be part of that celebration.

      • Bingo.

        As a dad who stayed at home with the kids for a year and now realizes how important family is it really sucks that there aren’t more resources out there for good fathers. There are a TON of resources for mothers.

        This ad just perpetuates the stereotype of women as moms while dad works or is playing.

    • Yes, that one they did pretty well—this was after the “Mom-Dad” Tide commercial which got complaints. And of course in this one there’s no mom. Maybe the real issue is that P&G ads take their cue from Disney movies: there’s no drama unless we’re missing at least one parent.

  9. Yeah, this bugs me about all “mom” oriented stuff. As a very involved dad I feel left out. Mommy blogs. Mommy groups. Mommy wars even. ;)

    But hard to get too worked up about it. Women do deserve extra love historically. Mainly I think some people are missing a growing demographic by ignoring involved dads.

    As an aside – it might be that they focus on moms intentionally because even if dads are more involved moms are the ones making purchasing decisions.

  10. I do think the “bumbling dad” archetype needs to die. At best it’s dismissive of dads and at worst it gives lazy dads an excuse to cop out. “Hey – I’m just a bumbling dad, I can’t change a diaper – sorry!” I never aspired to be incompetent as a dad (and my wife wouldn’t have let me anyway). I roll my eyes when I hear other men talking about how they couldn’t change a diaper. It’s not OK for women to play dumb and it’s not OK for men to play dumb either. If we want our daughters to be scientists (we do) then we should want our dads to be competent and involved fathers and that should be reflected in our entertainment and commercial culture.

  11. As I (triumphantly) cross the halfway point in my eight days of single dad-hood; juggling work and child rearing; managing the emotional highs and lows of developing daughters; making sure homework gets done (and done so that the concepts are understood); trying so hard to ensure each child has equal time, feels safe, and is appreciated; understanding (or at least listening as they try to make me understand) their frustrations with life, school, sports, competition, social interaction, and helping them work through them; having my existence in my childs’ lives marginalized—nay, disavowed—is insulting.

  12. I checked with both my mum and the mother of my children, but neither of them have received a sponsorship cheque from P&G. Presumably they just got lost in the post…..?

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