All Jim Higley wants is for Huggies to portray dads as they are. Not to canonize them, but to simply portray dads as men who love their kids and who are comfortable digging in with the daily work of parenting.
There’s one reason why the new Huggies Spaghetti Night Challenge commercial works. And that reason – at least for me – can be found in the photo above. More about that later.
The new commercial depicts a group of dads (real ones – not actors) with their kids (also real – not actors!) enjoying a spaghetti meal. And, as one would imagine, the kids make a splendid mess of themselves, their high-chairs, and their dads along the way. But thanks to the commercial’s hero – Huggies Wipes – the kids and their dads are left clean as a whistle, leaving us all with a happy-ever-after ending to this story.
Perhaps you’re asking, “Why even talk about this pint-size version of a cafeteria food fight?”
Ordinarily, you’d be right to wonder. But there’s a backstory here that’s put this commercial in the “dad-ad” spotlight. A month or so ago, Huggies kicked off a slick, new campaign, The Dad Test. The original intent was to be a “celebration” of dads. Unfortunately, the entire campaign backfired on Huggies as a public outcry of unhappy moms and dads called out Huggies for depicting dads as stereotypical doofuses who knew nothing about raising kids. To Huggies credit, they put all hands on deck to tackle this public relations predicament. They flew high-level Huggies personnel and Kimberly-Clark executives (the parent company) around the country to meet face-to-face with groups of fathers, they held mini-focus groups with dads, and they revamped the messaging of the entire campaign at a price tag I’m sure wasn’t cheap.
The irony of all this is that, due to some innocent (and perhaps not well-conceived) creative work, Huggies found themselves in the middle of a heated debate about the role of dads in our country. From their perspective, they were just trying to do something positive. I have to give them a pat on the rear for going above and beyond the call of duty to help smooth out a messy situation. They’re in the business of selling diapers and wipes – not leading the battle for dad-hood everywhere.
All I want from them – and brands across the country – is to portray dads simply as we are. Don’t celebrate us. Don’t canonize us. Don’t put us on a pedestal or portray us as anything other than men who love our children, dig in with the daily stuff, and – at the end of the day – value what we do.
Which brings me back to the photo above.
This is my oldest son, Kevin. I took it over 20 years ago. Consider this my version of the Spaghetti Night Challenge. Only this, I believe, was plums. But it really doesn’t matter, does it? What matters is that this commercial took me to a place that I value deeply. It gave me a “been there, done that” moment. A moment I’ve repeated over-and-over with my children for many years.
I know the creative people behind this ad are proud of the fact that they used “real dads” and not actors.
But honestly, I don’t care about that. Because, you see, I’m the real dad. And that’s what this commercial reminded me of.
It reminded me of something I cherished. Through the stickiness, the smell, and the disgusting crud I found in my ear two hours later – I cherished those moments. I cherished being quick and agile enough to outsmart my kids with pig-tying motions – pinning their two arms with my one free hand – while I swiftly wiped their face. And I could do it all while still wearing a tie.
I cherish those moments. A lot. And I miss them.
For it’s in moments like that, I was – and am – a real dad.