The Awesomeness of Modern Dads
In 1957 The New York Times published an article entitled “Trousered Mothers and Dishwashing Dads.” It detailed the growing concerns of the “confusion of male and female roles.” The article earnestly reflects on questions like “How can a boy learn what it means to be a man … when a mother and father in so many homes carry out identical tasks in relations to home and children?” And concludes “It would seem, then, that this problem — if it is a problem — is not merely a peculiarity of the American way of life brought about by the “dominant American woman” but a developing trend of modern civilization.”
Well, *cough*, it’s 60 years later and THIS dominant American woman is very happy to be the breadwinner of the family, and married to an incredible man who stays home with our three sons. And it is BECAUSE my husband does the dishes, and the laundry, and the bus drop-offs and pickups, and makes the lunches, and gives the baths, and dispenses the medicine that I KNOW my boys are going to learn what it means to be a man. We are not raising our sons to know a male’s role vs. a female’s role at home, we’re raising them to know what true partnership is.
Huggies dad test
When it comes to advertising portrayals of dads and their role, we’ve zoomed past the 1950s hands-off dad, and mostly past the bumbling doofus dad. The latter may have officially been killed off with Huggies’ horribly misguided “Dad Test” in 2012. The opening VO line is still cringe-worthy today: “To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test possible … DADS.” The rest of the ad plays out like the highly polished yet unholy matrimony of The Real World and America’s Funniest Videos.
Luckily, we’ve entered a new realm of “Dadvertising” where dads are authentically portrayed as engaged, emotional, sentimental, caring parents and human beings. It’s advertising that’s reflective of today’s dads. A 2016 Pew Research study found that nearly 66% of American households are dual-income, and compared to 1960s fathers, today’s dads spend triple the amount of time with their kids and do double the housework.
In 2015 Dove conducted its own research, finding that while 75% of dads say they are responsible for their child’s emotional well-being, only 20% of dads see this role reflected in the media. Since then, Dove Men+Care has done a fantastic job portraying the modern Dad as an emotional pillar in the family unit – an encourager, a sympathizer, a cheerleader, and a playmate — all anchored by #realstrength and the tagline “Care makes a man stronger.” It’s also notable that Dove Men+Care portrays gay fathers and have launched specific efforts for servicemen away from their kids. And with their 2017 Father’s Day work they speak to the network of male influence and care that help make our kids confident, well-rounded people (grandpas, teachers, uncles, coaches.)
Tide is an example of an advertiser who initially misstepped in Dadvertising, got called out, listened to the criticism, and turned it around. In 2011 Tide released a campaign called “DadMom” in which the featured dad folds laundry while speaking to camera. He presents his laundry abilities as exceptional vs. ordinary, labels himself as a “DadMom” vs. a dad, and emphasizes working out at the end to offset his implied less-manly duties. This ad attempted to defy gender roles and instead continued to propagate them. Yuck, eye-roll, groan.
However, to Tide’s credit, they returned a couple years later with ads featuring dads folding laundry again. Only this time the dads were just … dads. Dads who play with their daughters and do the laundry because they’re grown-ups and it needs to get done. Not because they deserve a pat on the back for being male and doing laundry, or because they’re filling in for mom, or my absolute least favorite — because they’re doing mom a “favor.”
Reynolds Wrap Dinner in America
This segues into what I’m most excited for in future portrayals of modern moms and dads in advertising — normalcy. It’s advertising that makes cute terms like “Dadvertising” and “Momvertising” obsolete. Just moms and dads working together in a finely choreographed partnership as the norm, not the exception. Especially as the number of stay-at-home dads continues to rise in America. And that’s why I was so struck by a simple vignette in Reynolds Wrap’s latest spot “Dinner in America.” The VO is in the narration style of a 1950s newsreel, and speaks to the ritual of dinner. Yet, as the VO says “The sun is setting on another fine day in the USA as the breadwinner arrives home from work,” the visual shows a man taking a casserole out of the oven as his wife comes home from work and places a bottle of wine on the counter. Yes, it could be improved by dropping the tongue-in-cheek VO, but this ad made me stop in my tracks. There was finally an advertising representation of me, my husband, our family and our normal.
I look forward to more representations of other versions of at-home normal in advertising — single moms, single dads, gay parents, grandparents raising grandkids, etc. There’s no ONE way to parent. Brands that recognize the diversity of family structures, roles and responsibilities, and reflect those realities in their advertising will be rewarded with customer loyalty and affinity. Again, the Reynolds Wrap ad isn’t even that good, but it is the first ad that is representative of my reality. So off to Costco I go to buy more Reynolds Wrap (see you later generic aluminum foil) which will probably be primarily used by my husband. And that’s just the way we like it.