Dadvertising: Super Bowl Recap

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last week I complained about the Similac ad that pulled a bait-and-switch on dads: “Hey, we’re all parents here! … And by parents, we mean moms.” But there were a couple of dad-centric ads this year during the Super Bowl, and for once dads weren’t portrayed as bumbling idiots. (Baby steps!)

First, the Nissan “With Dad” ad. This one sparked a good deal of conversation among the GeekDads. With “Cat’s in the Cradle” playing in the background, it’s a 30-second mini-movie about a racecar driver who doesn’t see his son much—but then when he retires from racing, he picks up his (now-teenage) son in a shiny new Nissan and has a moment.

The ad really illustrates the lyrics of the song well—here’s a dad who’s always gone, and you can tell that the family misses him. Some of us felt the implied message was: “Hey, you never spent time with your kid, but now you can give him a ride in this sweet car and that makes up for it, right?” Others argued that, no, here’s a guy who was just doing what he could do provide for his family—and if what he can do is race cars, then why should we blame him for that? (And then this led down a rabbit-hole about the virtues of stock car racing and professional sports players that I won’t get into, but it did make me a little more sympathetic.)

What I think is odd about this as an ad, though, is that the product being sold is responsible for this guy’s separation from his family for all those years. The song they picked for the ad is meant to be a lament, not a celebration. It’s not an ad that really makes me want to go buy a Nissan. (Though, come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever made my vehicle-buying decisions based on a Super Bowl ad. Has anyone?) Imagine if, in the Cheerios “Third Shift” ad, it was revealed that the job that takes the dad away from his family, the one that he works so hard at to provide for his kid, is at the General Mills factory making Cheerios. Kinda changes the mood, doesn’t it?

I did like some of Nissan’s other #withdad spots that I’d seen online, where they got some internet celebrities to do their own versions. (But in these cases, there’s not really much Nissan involved in the ads themselves other than in name.) In particular, my kids and I love seeing Action Movie Kid, whether he’s shilling for Nissan or not:

Rowan Atwood’s plastic ball prank doesn’t really counteract the idea of dad as just another big kid, but… I gotta admit that the idea of having your entire house turned into a plastic ball pit is pretty funny.

Ok, back on track here. Compare that first Nissan ad to the Toyota “Bold Choice” ad:

Here’s a father with his daughter. The contrast is immediately apparent, even without the narration talking about “the choice to be there.” While it lingers a little too long on the dad’s teary face at the end, I did really like that last line: “It’s a commitment, one that will make a wonderful human being … who will make their own choices someday.” It’s a nice reminder that being a dad is about raising our kids to be responsible adults. And as an ad: well, you notice how the car in this ad is used to tie them together, not pull them apart? Smart move.

Next up: Dove’s “Men+Care” ad:

I’m pretty sure I’d seen this one before, but I like the montage of kids saying “Dad!” in all its different permutations and tones. It’s a cute, feel-good spot that makes you glad to be a dad. Does it help sell soap? Well, it’s not really clear how Dove’s products make you a better dad, even with the tagline: “Care makes a man stronger.” But, whatever. I like the movie part.

Microsoft’s “Braylon O’Neill” ad is another feel-good spot about a little kid with prosthetic legs, with a little mention of how Microsoft’s software helps make legs that work for Braylon. It’s not as much of a dad-centric ad, but it does show an involved mom and dad, plus a cute kid overcoming adversity, so some goodwill points for Microsoft there:

Then there was this other ad that got people talking. While Nationwide’s “Invisible” ad went for funny with Mindy Kaling doing goofy things, the “Make Safe Happen” was like a PSA for parents gone horribly wrong. Here’s the video in case you hadn’t seen it, but I’ll warn you: it may make you twitch.

Ok, so now that we’ve had a little distance from Super Bowl Sunday, let’s talk about this one. First, as an ad: it certainly got people’s attention, right? You’re not going to forget this kid who will never grow up because he fell out of a window or drowned in a bathtub or ate some household cleaner. But I know most people didn’t want to think about the message of the ad because they simply didn’t like the way it was presented.

Probably the best summation of the ad (and the ick-factor reaction to it) is this tweet from Chuck Wendig:

Here’s the thing: as parents, we are responsible for making sure our kids are safe. The leading cause of death in children is unintentional injury, most of which are preventable. But the images in the ad don’t show that the biggest cause is actually traffic accidents for most kids over 4. (Drowning is first for 1-4.) Poisoning is actually low until you hit age 15—I’m guessing alcohol and drugs play a role there—and if I’m reading the CDC’s charts right, falling out of a window is also not really much of a factor for younger kids.

So while the text of the ad may be true, the implications may amount to more fear-mongering, the sort of thing that now gets parents arrested for letting their kids walk to school or play in a park. Absolutely, we should do what we can to protect our kids. It reminded me that I probably should get my cabinet locks installed, and bolt my bookshelves to the wall. But it doesn’t mean I should turn into Nemo’s dad, who promises never to let anything happen to his son.

Okay, one last example of some really touching dadvertising—this one’s not from the Super Bowl, but is actually an ad for MetLife Hong Kong. I tell you what, these MetLife Hong Kong ads are real tear-jerkers, but this one is about a dad. Get your Kleenex ready.

Ok, so it’s totally manipulating your emotions, but I think it’s a great reminder that what we do for our kids is worth the effort. And also that kids are pretty perceptive.

Did I miss any ads? What were your favorites from the Super Bowl, and which ones fell flat for you?

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