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.”
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: