In one of the last bastions of stereotyping, advertising, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the long-standing image of the bumbling dad.
The most obvious example of the change came earlier this year from Huggies. The company’s “Dad Test” ads originally traded on the concept that Huggies diapers are so good they could survive even when bumbling dad was in charge. The ads triggered an immediate backlash.
One father started an online petition that drew enough signatures — and enough attention — to convince Huggies’ parent company to retool the campaign.
The poster man for the campaign was replaced. Out went the disheveled guy with a clueless look, and in came the Clark Kent double, confidently carrying a baby while staring down the camera.
The takeaway from the Huggies stumble would seem to be that super dad is better than bumbling dad.
Not so fast.
In an eye-opening piece in this week’s AdWeek, “The Demise of the Doofus Dad in Ads,” writer Heather Chaet, traces the recent evolution of marketing campaigns as Madison Avenue traverses from tired old generalizations to a new acceptance that fathers know what they’re doing. But the path is riddled with psychological obstacles.
Some of these advertisers have figured out how to walk the line between stereotypes. My favorite is this ad from Subaru, featuring a father as a concerned every-parent.
But few campaigns are so deft. Many are quicker to trade one caricature, clueless, for another, crusading.
The dad market is particularly important to advertisers now, given the growing influence of fathers on home purchases. The recession has pushed many more fathers into becoming primary caregivers, while others have increasingly taken on co-parenting responsibilities.
Chaet cites recent surveys that found the majority of fathers believe they are the primary decision-maker on consumer good purchases in their homes.
“Believe” here is a key word, since others surveys have shown that spouses often disagree on who shops for the family. In other words, it’s not just fathers that advertisers have to think about.
Mothers may not appreciate either extreme, either. A know-nothing dad image leaves the impression that mothers should, naturally, have the primary or sole responsibility of children. The uber-dad image suggests that here is another arena where men are considered to be more competent.
Just as no mother is super mom, keeping all the demands in balance and looking great, too, no father is super dad. Parenting can be a beautiful thing, but it also wrecks havoc on the psyche, the wallet and any semblance of order.
Pitches for diapers or soap or cereal may be more successful if they reflect the new reality. The question is, what does that reality - or at lease the cleaned-up, idealized version of it - look like?
What do you think? Is the super dad image better than the bumbling dad? What would your ideal parenting ad reflect?