From Routly on Huggies to burying Mr. Mom, dads have the attention of media and marketers
Chris Routly was just another daddy blogger when he got annoyed last year with the diaper company Huggies and its recent advertising video voice-over that Routly felt shamed fathers. It said:
“To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: dads, alone with their babies, in one house, for five days.”
As a stay-at-home Portland, Oregon, dad of two, Routly’s irritation was obvious. “The message was these diapers were good because they had survived being tested by dads, which blatantly meant that dads are incompetent,” he says.
So Routly took to his blog, The Daddy Doctrines, to write about the issue. He started a petition, and before he knew it, Huggies pulled the video, reached out to him and asked for his guidance in revamping the campaign.
Dads fight back against gender inequality
This was just one of a number of incidents of fathers actively calling for marketers to portray fathers as involved, caring and able parents—not just the bumbling idiot stereotype that was mainstream in TV sitcoms through the ’80s and ’90s. (Think: Al Bundy, Ray Barone and Homer Simpson.)
“Men are saying, ‘We’re tired of this,’” says Hogan Hilling, founder of Dads Behaving Dadly, a blog that aims to highlight fathers’ positive contributions to families and communities while changing the negative image of fathers as ancillary and inept parents. “Marketers stand to make a lot of money by addressing fathers. They act as if mothers make all the buying decisions in families, but the reality is that marketers have not done any research as to how half of the population spends money” in families, says Hilling, who is the author of a number of parenting books, including Rattled: What He’s Thinking When You’re Pregnant ($14.95 at Books-A-Million) and The Modern Mom’s Guide to Dads ($14.95 at Books-A-Million).
Oren Miller, a Baltimore father of two who writes at BloggerFather.com, says that brands that denigrate men’s family contributions ultimately perpetuate the issue of the uninvolved father and promote gender inequality. “If opinion shapers refuse to portray involved dads, and if they continue to equate mom with ‘parent’ and dad with ‘secondary caregiver’ (at best), more dads will be convinced they’re not needed, and the stereotype of the uninvolved father will continue to feed itself in a never-ending chicken-and-egg cycle,” Miller says.
Through his blog, Miller is challenging Amazon and its “Amazon Mom” parenting program. “I do 99 percent of the shopping in our house, but I know I’m not the target audience for Amazon’s baby products,” Miller says. “Still, does that mean Amazon has to market only to mothers and exclude me completely? In the U.K., the program is called ‘Amazon Family.’ In the U.S., we still have ‘Amazon Mom’ because we’re so far behind in fatherhood issues. Society tells us we’re unnecessary, and we listen.”
Brands are starting to listen
Dad or Alive blogger and author Adrian Kulp, a stay-at-home Washington, D.C. dad of two, points out that marketers who work with dad blogs actually reach more moms than dads. “If they’re smart, they’ll realize that dad blogger audiences are actually more women than men,” Kulp says. “A lot of women are curious to hear my side of the story and commiserate with me on the daily stay-at-home parenting struggle.” (Save money on Kulp’s first book when you pre-order from Books-A-Million.)
Routly of Huggies fame points out that moms often no longer identify with the bumbling dad image and respond favorably when marketers portray dads as involved, capable parents. Routly points to Tide’s video showing a dad caring for his daughter. There is no mention of how special or unusual this is, whether he is a stay-at-home, divorced or married man. “It was fantastic,” Routly says. “It was saying: ‘This is the life of the 21st century dad.’”
These sorts of messages are part of a bigger cultural and media shift. Early February marked the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit, a conference aimed at bringing brands and dad bloggers together. Companies in attendance included national names like Dove, Sears, Honda, Kraft, Turtle Wax, Jamba Juice and even Huggies. “Marketers are actually starting to listen to us,” Hilling says.
Even more, they’re starting to get serious about finding out how and what men buy. Frozen food maker Farm Rich gave a grant to the National At-Home Dad Network to fund a study on the changing roles of stay-at-home dads, and Dove Men+Care is supporting research at Boston College about the changing roles of fathers.
For its part, the National At-Home Dad Network has made headlines for its campaign to “bury the term ‘Mr. Mom’” and is staging a mock burial to drive home their point. They’re working on getting the actor Michael Keaton, who starred in the movie Mr. Mom 30 years ago, to read the eulogy.
Another blogger, Adam Cohen, has a beef with the lack of baby products designed for dads. Cohen, who is a stay-at-home dad and blogger at DaDaRocks.com, has a unique perspective as a former marketing executive with baby good vendor J&R Jr.
On the one hand, Cohen appreciates that brands’ missions are to make money—not start a social revolution. But when his son was born, he found himself frustrated with things like few choices for masculine diaper bags, especially when the main bag was his wife’s bejeweled purple metallic number (though he did end up getting a Diaper Dude tote). “I’m surprised there isn’t more of an outcry from men about this,” says Cohen, who lives in New York City. “But on the other hand, there are some things I won’t have an opinion about. I don’t care what breast pump my wife picks out. Just find me a bottle to put together and warm in the pitch blackness of night.”
For more on Dads, marketers, and the media:
—this article first appeared in RetailMeNot
—lead photo by funky fat girl/Flickr