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7 brands that really know dads

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Marketers obsess over how to reach moms, but dads take something of a back seat. On one level, that's not surprising. Stay-at-home moms in the U.S. far outnumber stay-at-home dads, so by that metric alone it makes sense that marketers are much more likely to think about how they portray motherhood when the creative calls for family.

But according to Edelman, men are the primary shoppers in about one third of all U.S. households. That might not seem like a lot, but it's a significant leap compared to just two decades ago, when only about 14 percent of those families counted men as the primary shoppers. That same report also cited U.S. Census data that shows that of the 70 million dads in America, 1.7 million are single fathers. Just as significant, fathers are increasingly driving purchasing decisions in areas where women were once thought to have exclusive purview, such as household items and goods for babies and children.

Overall, mothers are still very much in the driver's seat, but marketers need to pay attention to dads, says Rich Lennox, CMO at Toys"R"Us. Speaking with eMarketer recently, Lennox said brands need to include dads in their marketing, even if the focus is still on moms.

"We host hands-on, interactive in-store events that are designed for families," Lennox said. "In the past, we've hosted Father's Day weekend make-and-take events, such as Lego-building events. We also feature dads in our advertisements. This past holiday season, we ran a TV spot about "Star Wars" merchandise that featured a dad passing his love of "Star Wars" onto his daughter, and it performed very well."

But the dad strategy isn't just about the ads at Toys"R"Us. What the brand sells is just as important as its message when it comes to reaching dads.

"From a merchandising perspective, we cater to dads by carrying a selection of products especially suited to them, including diaper bags and books about fatherhood," Lennox said. "We've even changed the way we market to men by including more dads in our focus groups."

Of course, Toys"R"Us isn't the only brand thinking seriously about dads these days. Here are six more.

Chase

The idea behind Chase's "Mastery 2.0" campaign was to highlight the bank's role in helping people plan for their future.

"Our customers come to us for advice at pivotal life moments -- retirement, saving for college, dealing with a change in life circumstances," said Donna Vieira, CMO for Chase consumer banking. "We wanted to tell our customers' stories around these moments."

One of the four stories Chase chose to tell was about a father who goes to great lengths to make his daughter's wish come true by dressing up as a fairy princess. Naturally, there's also a tie-in to making her long-term financial dreams come true, but dad playing make-believe is the real hook. It's cute. And of course, the song is perfect.

Dove

Mention Dove to marketers, and you'll certainly hear an earful about the brand's groundbreaking work around issues of female empowerment and body image. But Dove isn't a one-trick pony. In fact, the brand's Father's Day ad expressed a decidedly modern take on masculinity by drawing a connection between caring and strength in its discussion of fatherhood. Oh yeah -- and the ad, which showed real men learning that they would soon be dads, was also excellent in the feels department.

Pantene

If you're looking for manly men, you can't do much better than professional football players. They're big. They're fast. And they're strong. But of course, strong can be beautiful, and strength isn't an exclusively male quality, which is what makes these Pantene ads so compelling. By casting real NFL players and asking them to wash their daughters' hair, Pantene made a powerful statement about raising strong women. Of course, the juxtaposition of these gridiron warriors in a salon setting also has an element of comedy, and Pantene did a great job of walking the line between a touching message and the humor of the situation. As one player for the Dallas Cowboys says, "A 'dad-do' comes from the heart, but there's probably not a whole lot of style."

Lego

Stay-at-home dads are a thing. And while they're not as common as moms who stay home to raise the kids, these dads are certainly enough of a cultural force to warrant recognition. Enter Lego with its bearded stay-at-home dad.

"We need to stay in tune with the world around us," Soren Torp Laursen, Lego's president, told Fortune. "We aren't responding to demand from anyone. We are trying to portray the world around us and listen to our consumer base."

The bearded stay-at-home dad Lego isn't part of a larger marketing campaign, but the figure did garner a lot of buzz for the brand.

Hershey's

Proving that a brand can include dads without making any particular statement about the meaning of fatherhood, Hershey's came up with a wonderfully quirky ad about a girl who decides to make a life-size cardboard cutout of her father. It's a joyful, offbeat story with a lot of comedic moments, but what's great about the ad is that Hershey's uses the father-daughter relationship to ground its message with an emotional core.

Hennessy

These days, if a brand is going to put the focus on dads, it seems more likely than not that they'll choose to talk about the relationship between father and daughter. But of course, there are plenty great father and son stories, and Hennessy did well to work a real-life story into its long running "Wild Rabbit" campaign, which features great, record-breaking, or daring characters from history.

This particular ad tells the stories of the Piccards. In 1931, Auguste Piccard became the first man to reach the stratosphere in a pressurized capsule and balloon. Thirty years later, his son Jacques became the first man to reach the deepest part of Earth's ocean floor.

Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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