There has been a dad outcry against how Similac ended its Mom’s War video. What could have been great, left us on the outside — again. Here is what writer Rob Watson suggests we can do about it.
Similac is a formula maker. Recently they released this video in which bands of parents are depicted, albeit in cliché ways, all hurling barbs at each other as to why they are the superior parenting model.
Suddenly one of the baby carriages borrows a 1920s movie tactic and starts careening down the hill. All the parents drop their squabbling and tear after the renegade cart, and save the child, all the while realizing their bickering is superficial and we are all in this together. Dammit.
The problem for many dads, me included, is that there is suddenly a huge “disturbance in the force” of this good will as the tagline “Sisterhood of Motherhood” emblazons across the screen at the end of the video. Many of those who had been thrilled with the commercial’s all inclusive messaging suddenly felt like a nice warm go-cart ride ended up in a chilly lake.
Several dad bloggers Chris Routly, Buzz Bishop, Brent Almond and others wrote about it and made their irritations known to Similac. “While named Sisterhood of Motherhood, the program is meant to uplift and encourage all parents in the decisions they make for their families,” Similac responded to blogger Chris.
On the whole, many dads are turned off by the tag. One in particular, in a comment section, took his displeasure to an almost misogynistic level. “Are they actually equating a full time Dad as less than male? That is the only conclusion I can reach …” he says, taking the idea of men being part of the “sisterhood” as “less than male” demeaning and lowering their “superiority” status.
Gay dad Brent Almond, who I respect greatly, speculated that he would rather dads not even be included in the campaign. “So why then did you sully all of that with the exclusionary tagline, “Welcome to the Sisterhood of Motherhood” and the hashtag “#SisterhoodUnite?” Why go to the trouble to include fathers at all, if you’re just going to erase them within the final shot? … But don’t throw dads a bone only to snatch it away at the last minute. It’s irresponsible, disingenuous, and just plain inconsistent.”
As another gay dad, I took exception to Brent’s comment. With heartbreaking stories daily of gay dads being denied adoption rights, and decent respect, across the country it is far too early to ask that positive gay dad depictions be edited out, even if we think the tagline is misguided. We have not come that far yet. To suggest exclusion, in my opinion, is throwing out the formula-fed baby with the bathwater.
While I am 100% on board with the dad criticism of Similac, my business background, particularly with publicly traded corporations, tells me that these are not battles we are going to win. Sorry guys. Here is why:
Ad concepts like “sisterhood” and “motherhood” are not developed in a vacuum. They are tested, focus group examined and vetted long before they reach the campaign. They are not examined for social good or altruistic reasons, they are done with one objective in mind –- will they inspire target markets to spend money? Will they meet the marketing objectives of the advertising investment itself?
I would be willing to bet that all the dad inclusive suggestions like “parenthood” were tested, but proved to be less lucrative than “sisterhood” with the people the Similac brand is trying to reach. Witness another example.
Amazon has a program around similar baby-oriented products to Similac called “Amazon Moms” in the US. Again, there was a reaction by dads as to the exclusionary campaign, particularly when Amazon had a parallel campaign in the UK called “Amazon Family”. “Why when you are already supporting an inclusive brand, would you leave us behind in the US?” was the cry. Short answer: because the UK inclusionary brand was a total dog.
Amazon US’s install base is twice the size of its UK counterpart, yet the Amazon Mom campaign had attracted over 400,000 participants. The UK Amazon Family only inspired a comparatively paltry 17,000. If the name had been as viable, the response should have been over ten times greater than what they got.
If you want to know why a business does something, or what they are likely to do in the future: follow the money. The problem is not with the marketers, it is with the market. Similac and Amazon are publicly traded business entities. This means they not only have to make money, they are beholden to a large group of stock holders and their corporate obligation is to take actions to bring growth to the stockholders’ investments. They would be inappropriate therefore in investing stakeholder money into a societal message campaign rather than one for greater product sales.
Back to Similac. Figuring out the objective to an ad campaign is not rocket science. The enormous amount of money is invested into the project to affect a very specific market goal, and the message usually will state a counter point to what is seen as the market’s current mindset. In this case, Similac has identified that their greatest opportunity for more marketshare is to sell to women who have the option to breastfeed but instead might buy formula. They have identified that these women feel guilty in doing so especially since there is so much information about the value of breastfeeding. Similac’s big objective here is to free these women from guilt, and make them feel rah-rah good, and to go buy formula. From Similac.
How does the dad market figure into this? We don’t. Chances are we are buying formula already, and feeling completely guilt-free in doing so. We are a second thought in this campaign not because we are being seen as second class parents, but because we are not in the group of parents who are not buying their products currently, but who could be.
On the Similac Facebook page it was mom Cary Walker who lobbed the most accurate criticism of the campaign, whether you agree with her or not, when she said, “I think that I would never let an advertisement tell me what to think, or reduce me to a ridiculous stereotype. Stop perpetuating the tired notion of “mommy wars” for your own gain. The only one who benefits from shutting down honest and healthy discussions about parenting is companies like you. I know the promotion of breastfeeding is a threat to you because if women chose to feed their babies for free instead of paying you, that is pretty bad for business. Because, in the end, this isn’t some altruistic message about “sisterhood”. It’s propaganda to sell more formula. I don’t think it’s funny, or heart wrenching. I think it’s a sad statement about how we let media and advertising manipulate the way we see the world.”
Therefore, am I suggesting that dads quiet down regarding depictions like this? No, actually I am not.
I am suggesting that we take Amazon and Similac as symptoms and not causes to a real problem. We need to make the entire parenting population aware of the value of dads. The fact that “sisterhood” and “motherhood” get warm fuzzies and “family” gets the cold shoulder is a huge societal failing.
So we need to keep shouting, keep being visible and educate. We even need to show up for the fights that we cannot win, with messages that ultimately will resonate. Sometimes we will win just enough, just a little. As a result of the dad conversation, Similac is reported to be adding the hashtag #ParentsFirst in addition to #SisterhoodUnite to its campaign. Most importantly, we must keep talking so that our sons and daughters are aware of an expanded vision of parenthood that is defined not by a person’s gender or sexual orientation, but by the size of their heart.
The warm money-spending fuzzies we seek may be a generation away, but we will get there.