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How 5 brands connected (or didn't) with dads

Kyle Montero
How 5 brands connected (or didn't) with dads Kyle Montero

Acting on outdated stereotypes downplaying the role of dads in the home, brands and their agencies have continually picked on fathers. But the bullying has not gone unnoticed. According to a recent study conducted by The Parenting Group and Edelman, the majority of dads experience a societal bias against them. In fact, "82 percent of men whose oldest child is less than 2 years old believe an anti-dad societal bias exists, compared with the average of 66 percent among all dads."

How 5 brands connected (or didn't) with dads

Yet brands continue to force feed the familiar "doofus dad" stereotype down consumer throats. However, as dads become increasingly social online, brands are beginning to satisfy the market craving for inspirational father figures, producing ads that resist past ideologies and embrace a future that reflects Dad's dynamic role within the parenting equation.

Let's take a look at two brands that missed the mark with the dad demographic -- and three that hit the bull's-eye.

Fail: Huggies makes a mess

Diaper giant Huggies' success comes from helping the world dispose of its mess. And following an advertising campaign that portrayed dads as bumbling, incompetent parents, Huggies was forced to put its clean-up skills to the test, as an angry parental backlash led Huggies to toss its soiled ads. Yet, given the web's viral nature, the controversial videos were not entirely disposable.

As a part of Huggies' "Dad Test" campaign, the company posted several videos on its Facebook page "to demonstrate the performance of [its] diapers and baby wipes in real life situations." According to the videos, "real life situations" involve clumsy fathers awkwardly tending their babies or neglecting them in favor of TV. The commercial's female voice-over perpetuates the hapless father stereotype by stating, "To prove that Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable -- dads."

Resenting the notion that their alleged lack of parental skills creates Huggies' "toughest test," fathers quickly swarmed the social sphere with criticism. For example, on the company's Facebook page, one user wrote, "Hey jerks, thanks for contributing to the perception that fathers are incompetent parents who let babies lay around in their own waste until they can be rescued." In addition, an online petition with the mission to "end the insulting Huggies' campaign" quickly gained more than 1,300 signatures. Consequently, within a week, the VP of the Huggies brand, Erik Seidel, issued the following statement: "I recognize that we need to do a better job of communicating the campaign's message. We're learning and listening, and, because of your response, are making changes to ensure that the true spirit of the campaign comes through in the strongest way possible." Accordingly, Huggies posted a revamped video with nurturing dads peacefully rocking happy babies.

Fail: Ragu spills the sauce

Huggies is far from the only brand to disrespect the dad demographic. For example, pasta sauce brand Ragu hoped to cook up a viral video campaign to promote its sauce, but the finished product was indigestible, as the video mocked fathers for their lack of creativity in the kitchen. But this did not keep Ragu from forcing the video down the throats of influential dads, as the company spammed popular bloggers with tweets, such as:

Source: Ragu Twitter Stream

Unfortunately for Ragu, its misguided tweets linked to the following video, which features moms painting their husbands as unskilled cooks in need of Ragu's simple, idiot-proof recipes:

Ragu's plan backfired, as the inedible video caused numerous social influencers to upchuck harsh criticisms. For example, recognized social media marketer C.C. Chapman wrote the following in a post entitled, "Ragu Hates Dads:"

"Ragu, you failed. You tried to be clever and you blew it. Whoever your agency is that told you this was a good idea should be fired because they are doing things for you that snake oil salesman are selling companies on every day and you've written the check for it. You should have known better. They should have served you better. I'm sure Ragu doesn't really hate dads, but after this video I can firmly say that there are plenty of dads who will hate Ragu. I certainly now do."

Dad's dynamic role

This loud paternal backlash points to two industry game-changers that marketers must take into account. First, the father's role within the home has changed (and has been changing for quite some time). And second, dads are becoming increasingly socially active online (which leads to a greater awareness of their domestic role).

Regarding Dad's role within the home, The Parenting Group and Edelman study asked dads about their responsibility for various household chores. The responses revealed that dads, no matter the age, feel accountable for roughly 50 percent of parental tasks, such as grocery shopping, diaper changing, taking the children to school, discipline, etc.

In addition, the same study discovered that 42 percent of new dads use social networks daily to share family-related status updates. Furthermore, according to an eMarketer study, "56 percent of new dads post family photos at least a few times a week, while 21 percent post family-related videos." In addition, millennial dads have a greater number of online friends than millennial moms. According to the survey, "dads reported to having an average of 96 online friends, while moms averaged only 70."

Source: eMarketer

These statistics are no surprise to Mark Wildman, VP of The Parenting Group, who states, "I don't just view myself as a provider. The nurturing, the cooking, the food buying -- I am doing it in partnership with my wife."

So, why is marketing still tilted toward moms, rather that reflective of parental partnerships? If dads are responsible for roughly 50 percent of household tasks and more than capable of exercising extensive social influence, should brands continue to ignore them? Clearly, the answer is no, and here are the brands that have come to this conclusion and started giving dads the attention they deserve.

Win: Tide cleans up

Turning the dimwitted dad stereotype on its head, laundry detergent Tide produced a video portraying the stay-at-home dad as witty and intelligent, without the formulaic "dumb-dad" slant.

The TV spot's stay-at-home dad speaks to the audience with pride regarding his laundry duties, as if Tide has accepted the responsibility to prove that laundry is Dad's job as well. And, by using Tide laundry detergent to make "the clothes look amazing," the dad becomes the hero of the commercial, occupying a new space in household product advertisements.

The commercial clearly demonstrates a realization that dads are exercising more buying power and input into household spending. But what makes the video truly unique is Tide's take on the dad's "me time." When the father explains that he will "get to spend a little more 'me time'" because the garment doesn't need to be washed twice, the child instantly enters the room asking, "Daddy, can you French braid my hair?" Upon which, the dad questions, "Herring bone or fish tail?" Not only does this demonstrate a deep involvement with his child, but it also equates the dad's "me time" to the time he spends with his child. This is what makes a "man" a "dad" -- the presence of a child. In this sense, Tide is truly marketing to dads.

Win: Google pulls our heartstrings

Set to an inspiring piano and violin track that climaxes at just the right moment, Google Chrome's ad, entitled "Dear Sophie," depicts a father creating a digital scrapbook composed of notes, pictures, and videos for his daughter using multiple Chrome features. The scrapbook chronicles landmark moments in Sophie's life -- her birth, first birthday, brother's birth, snowboarding face-plants, bike rides, and ballet lessons. It all concludes on the father's note for his daughter: "I've been writing you since you were born. I can't wait to share these with you some day. Until then...Love, Dad."

The video is brought to a close with the words, "Daniel Lee, Dad," which makes clear the ad's target. Not only does the video depict a caring father's close relationship with his daughter, but it also presents a tech savvy dad who employs his digital skills to narrate his daughter's life, which reflects both an evolving social perception of dad's parental role and his embrace of new technology.

A recent study conducted by Microsoft Advertising found that pre-family men ("18 to 34-year-olds who are just dipping their toes into adulthood") spend 10 or more hours a day "multitasking between their PC, smartphone, tablet, and gaming console." These same men are heavily influenced by media: "66 percent are influenced by TV advertising, while 50 percent are influenced by online advertising, and 44 percent are influenced by online search results." The "Dear Sophie" video indicates Google's awareness of the new dad's experience with connected devices and their susceptibility to media. But, more importantly, the video depicts a nurturing father whose emotional connection with his daughter is on full digital display. 

Win: Volkswagen drives into fatherhood

The National Fatherhood Initiative's (NFI) mission is to "improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers." Since 1997, the organization has honored individuals, corporations, and organizations that have shown a commitment to "involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood" with the Fatherhood Awards.  In April 2012, the NFI honored Volkswagen of America with a Fatherhood Award for its TV spot, "The Force." For the first time in the award's history, the winner was chosen by the public through an AFI Facebook contest.

Volkswagen's Super Bowl sensation "The Force," first released online, features a pint-sized Darth Vader attempting to "use the force" to magically move objects (even his unamused dog)  within the home. After the child's father pulls up in a Volkswagen, the miniature Vader tries his powers on the family's Passat. From inside the home, dad uses the remote ignition key to start the car, surprising his excited son.

The dad's smile perfectly captures the playful spirit of the father-son relationship. Vincent DiCaro, NFI's VP of development and communication, explained that Volkswagen deserved the award because the ad "taps into a characteristic that all good dads have -- their desire to encourage creativity and play in their children. NFI is honored to recognize Volkswagen for celebrating dads in this way and providing safe, reliable vehicles that give dads peace of mind."

Another recent Volkswagen commercial clearly captures an attempt to create "peace of mind" for fathers. The video traces an individual's transition from boy to father and the shifting priorities that accompany said change. As the boy matures into a dad, he replaces his backpack for a baby carrier, his bike for a Jetta, and the question "Is it fast?" for "Is it safe?"


Not only are dads exercising more buying power, but they are also expanding their social influence. Tapping into the dad demographic at a moment when fathers freely share information online should be every brand's objective. So, as the outdated man matures into the modern, responsible father, it's time for modern brands to grow up too.

Kyle Montero is an editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Hispanic father and children shopping online" image via Shutterstock.


Kyle Montero


to leave comments.

Commenter: Barrett Rossie

2012, June 08

One rule to live by: Don't create communications that make your customer look like idiots. Even as a joke.