Medicinal bias and the exclusion of dads

There’s a scene in the 1983 movie “Mr. Mom” where the mother looks at their three kids with concern and exclaims, “Look guys, take it easy on daddy. Remember, he’s a rookie.”

Now more than three decades removed from the film with the pejorative name that never goes away, there’s still some of the prevailing message and sexist vibe that also never wants to disappear.

That message is loud and clear: that dad is not an equal, competent parent.

Marketers and media tell us this every day, and never before has this been more evident than at the digital pages of Hyland’s, Inc., which again remind us that parental and gender equality hasn’t come very far since Michael Keaton’s early years.

Let’s start with one of its recent campaigns, which boldly proclaims that “there is no greater power on earth than a mother.”hylands4.jpg

Of course that’s only partially true, because it forgets the equal, equivalent power of the other parenting half.

But wait, there’s more.

That page begins with the declaration, “There are things only a mother knows,” and finishes with “we will take care of moms, so they can take care of the world.hylands6.jpg

It’s all very wonderful writing, but it’s hard to imagine why the author purposely went out of the way to exclude dads. Are fathers that meaningless when it comes to raising families? Are they really that inept at providing medicine for kids and families? Aren’t dads just as important to families as moms?

The dad exclusion doesn’t really end there. You can find mom-centered elements sprinkled throughout its website, which purposely wards off dads at every chance it gets. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an image of a father anywhere on its site.

All of it gets particularly obdurate at the Hyland’s Mom’s 1st Club, where it offers a hylands5.jpgrewards and loyalty program specifically designed for moms. No, not parents – moms. But the awkwardness of the title reaches a crescendo when you discover that none of the program’s perks have anything to do with being female. It’s validated when you fill out the form to join; there’s no gender checkbox, which makes the overall effort mirror that of such parental exclusionary programs as Disney Moms.

So go for it, dads – you too can join the Hyland’s Mom’s 1st Club!

It’s all a bit of oddity for a company that could use a shot in the arm. In October 2010, it voluntarily took teething tablets off the market and was faced with a challenging year, according to its website. But focusing on only half of the parenting population seems to be a strange way to build market share.

If the Hyland’s overarching storyline seems to mimic the ambiance of “Mr. Mom,” you’re not mistaken. And yet as successful as “Mr. Mom” was for its time, it bears mentioning that there was never a sequel, the go-to bread-and-butter for any Hollywood studio executive.

Let’s hope Hyland’s can make some corrections to its site soon and make dads feel like equal, competent players in the parenting game. Fatherhood has changed dramatically since the days of Michael Keaton’s portrayal.

Will Hyland’s change too?

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Why does Claritin insist dads don’t take care of kids?

Who says dads don’t take care of kids’ allergies? Bayer Global, makers of Children’s Claritin – that’s who.

It doesn’t take long to figure out who Bayer wants as its customer base when you visit its gender-specific website which insists dads aren’t parents who buy or provide medicine. Bayer doesn’t just offer a Smart Allergy Mom Toolkit – they’re so convinced that only moms matter they trademarked it.

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But that’s not all. Bayer even offers the Claritin Mom Crew, which offers only moms free product samples and promotional items in exchange for positive reviews. Dads, it would seem, were not even given an opportunity to speak because the invite was never extended.

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It’s all a tough pill to swallow for dads who remain dedicated as part of today’s modern families. It’s these same dads who hear constant viral stories of mothers who complain about having to do it all, then get little by way of backup from ad agencies who insist just that – moms must do it all.

Of course, we all know this not to be true. Dads also seek assistance when looking to administer medicine to allergy-suffering children. Dads are every bit equal, competent parents who care greatly about their children.

These are not your dads of yesteryear, depicted in 1950s sitcoms as aloof, unemotional and neglectful. Nor are they the spoofed, incompetent 1980s fathers of “Mr. Mom” and “Vacation” who needed corrected by their more sensible wives.

Bayer’s approach is both disappointing and troubling. It’s effectively telling fathers everywhere – you don’t matter. It’s a surprising and unfair omission from a company whose mission is “to achieve and maintain leadership positions in our markets” and to “respect the interests of all our stakeholders.”

It’s hard to imagine how all of these ideals can be accomplished when it’s not aiming to reach the dad market, nor respecting the members of that market.

Bayer’s #BeAnOutsider social media campaign is a clever one that encourages Claritin users to start enjoying the outdoors again. But it also offers a heavy dose of irony to dads: they already are outsiders.

Perhaps someday Bayer will let dads in and make them to feel like the true, equal parents they are without any bias toward who they think cares for kids today.

If Bayer truly knew its customer base, it would know differently.

Let’s stop telling dads they’re not parents

A clear shortcoming of excluding dads from marketing is how it diminishes his ability as a capable consumer.dadshops6

Of course, moms possess no more instinctual ability to purchase items than dads, who are fully fit shoppers. The current message and stigma about dads, however, has trained us to think otherwise. It’s that same messaging that influences moms while they shop on their own. It’s curious to contemplate that while some people believe everything outside the home is a man’s world, the marketing community firmly believes otherwise when constructing messages in relation to everything inside the home.

With all of the emotion, empowerment, and authenticity of advertising directed toward mothers, how constructive are advertisements which speak only to them?

armandhammer1.jpgIn other words, is society really taking mothers seriously when all the focus is placed on them to the exclusion of fathers? Do mothers really want this heap of responsibility when scores of moms incessantly plead for help in the home and caring for children? Do mothers really want it all, as ads so often suggest: motherhood, career, and control of the household and family? Is it fair to portray women solely as happy homemakers in half of the ads and as sex objects in the other half?

Viewed collectively, these ads seem to be at odds with how women are regarded in society and inadvertently places unwanted labels on them.

The subjective conception of such marketing means that women pay a price beyond labels and undesirable pressure.

Humanity will never achieve overall equality for women, particularly at work, until the same equality for men is achieved as parents. The two are intertwined.

When gender stereotypes unfairly discount men as true parents and view women as instinctual caretakers of children, it conveys a message that it’s a man’s world everywhere but home.

Beware of the unconscious bias

To see food products like Jif and Kix hold on to their timeworn, stereotypical catchphrases — all of it has reached a state of comicality. It certainly suggests absurdity and irrationality. We’re talking about peanut butter and cereal. Those products are specific to moms?

But then there are those items related to babies, and less people seem to notice the exclusionary practices tied to its marketing. Boppies were never invented solely for mothers, but they’re regularly positioned to exclude dads from messaging and thus, demote dads to secondary parental status. Similac offers baby formula – a surefire product for dads if there ever was one – yet its makers go out of their way to reject dads in messaging.

drbrowns4All of this is detrimental to families, of course, because it impedes the family from flourishing as it should without recognizing fathers as equal, competent parents.
Dr. Brown’s can now be grouped with the Boppy and Similac. They’re all products that owe us a little more, that need to try a little harder, that have a responsibility to go out of their way to ensure that dads don’t feel left out. They’re products that should regularly feature dads and speak to them in all that they do.

Go ahead and try to find a single image of a dad on the Dr. Brown’s site. Is there even one? That’s hardly representative of today’s modern families, or even families of yesteryear.

The current actions of companies like Dr. Brown’s, Boppy and Similac would be a little like Lowe’s only using men in its ads and scripting slogans and ad copy that only speaks to that one gender. And imagine the uproar if they did! Rather, they know that home improvement is hardly a gender-specific thing, even though common stereotypes indicate that power tools and outdoor work is supposedly for men.

But instead, Dr. Brown’s takes the old-fashioned route and tells us that dads don’t take drbrowns2.jpgcare of babies, or can’t bottle feed, or don’t want to. It’s all very troubling for a company that prides itself on innovation and support. And check out the disconcerting use of moms as a synonym for parent. Sorry Dr. Brown’s, but not all parents are moms, and thus, those terms can’t be succinctly substituted without leaving someone out.

Also take note of its Ambassadors program. Not only does it exclude fathers, it behaves as if they don’t exist.drbrowns5

Dr. Brown’s Twitter bio promises that its focus is “to create innovative feeding products to promote good health and optimal nutrition for baby.” If that’s true, then it’s time to make several revisions to its website and social media.

Dads want to deliver those things, too, and if someone tells him he can’t, he’s going to look elsewhere for someone who believes in him.

Baking up parental equality

Most consumer products have peak sales times of the year – periods on the calendar when companies can best capitalize on generating the most revenue.entenmanns.jpg

For many, that time of year is the holiday shopping season, when gift buying is strong. For others, such as home improvement stores, that time occurs during the spring when home owners are fixing and planting. Fitness centers especially profit during January and February as New Year’s resolutions mean losing weight and exercising more.

Of course, this time of year – back-to-school season – is when breakfast and lunch makers ramp up efforts to get families in the groove of using their products.

And what is snack maker/baker Entenmann’s doing? It’s telling the nation that only one parent takes care of kids.entenmanns2.jpg

Not only can you find use of the word mom (not parent), you can also find images of a lopsided 13 moms vs. 4 dads on its Parents/Have Fun With Us page.

All of this would have been appropriate some 60-70 years ago when moms ran the show. But parenting has changed dramatically since then. In today’s modern families, dad is now also in charge of buying groceries, clothes, school supplies, and other products and services the family needs to exist. So the marketing approach is key, because dad needs to see he is a trustworthy purchasing agent for his family. The best way to do this is to involve him in the marketing process and value him as an equal parent as well as a valued customer.

By marketing directly to moms, Entenmann’s reinforces a certain stereotype and subliminally makes dad feel that mom is a better/leading parent.

Entenmann’s could do everyone a service by ending this practice of only conversing with moms. It will also do itself a firm favor by winning back dads who are currently reaching for another brand.

What to expect — when you’re a dad

There’s no denying the impact of the legendary book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Author Heidi Murkoff didn’t just write a book in 1984, she created a brand whattoexpect3.jpgthat has spawned a series of books, an online companion site, a feature film starring Cameron Diaz, and a foundation that has benefited over a half million parents.

Simply put, when Murkoff speaks, people listen. And they should. Her easily accessible WhatToExpect.com is a treasure trove of exhaustive pregnancy subject matter. The site is still greatly in need of a “For Dad” section, and while we’ve already addressed that once, we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Today, let’s look at its latest email newsletter, which tackles an amazingly thoughtful question from one of its readers and is also kindheartedly addressed by its founder Murkoff.

While it’s easy to appreciate this column’s intent, dads may find a real problem with parts of it.

whattoexpect4.pngIts headline sounds like dad is some sort of project that needs to be developed, and can only be done so by a woman. As the reader’s question poses, yes, dad needs cared for – which is part of the definition of nurture – but he doesn’t need to be grown or developed (another part of the definition of nurture). If mom was given space to figure out things on her own, so can dad. That learning can also come together, but there’s no need to insinuate that a dad needs training that only the “lead parent” (e.g., mom) can provide.

To draw a comparison, let’s say a husband posed a similar question about his wife. Would anyone ever attempt to write a comparable headline, “Nurturing the Mother-to-Be”? No, because moms would likely be terribly offended. Most assume – because females give birth – that mothering is instinctual, and fathering must be learned. The truth is, mothers bear no more instinctual ability to parent than fathers.

whattoexpect5Now looking at Murkoff’s response, the opening line also shows a lack of respect for men. No, men don’t care only about sex, and it also suggests that men aren’t as dedicated to conceiving as women. Saying anything otherwise is demeaning to the many caring dads-to-be who are just as interested in having a baby as the mom-to-be.

That first sentence is a rather insensitive opening for a question that has a lot of heart. Remember, the wife’s question says that her husband is feeling “a little neglected,” and she wants to “let him know he’s special too.” That man sounds rather sensitive to us, not anything like the ones portrayed in a beer commercial near you. The bottom line is, it’s sexist to assume that the majority of men only care about the sex part, not the baby part.

That gender bias wouldn’t be so bad had it not been punctuated in the third paragraph, where Murkoff suggests a sports day for the husband. That’s a fine suggestion which most dads would probably enjoy, but not all dads do. It’s a little like how dads are portrayed on Father’s Day cards, almost always with neckties, suits and tools. Again, we’re not against the sports suggestion itself (it’s a great one!), but coupled with the men-only-care-about-sex anthem earlier, dads are feeling a bit profiled by the end.

What to Expect seems to have all the bases covered when it comes to pregnancy, but it might consider another book in its series which comes from a dad’s perspective. Alas, no pregnancy guide is complete without considering dad, because there’s a lot more to pregnancy than just the woman’s body and mind. That baby in there, it’s theirs equally.

Not all parents are moms

While it’s disappointing to find another lunch product maker ignoring dads as equally competent parents and shoppers, the latest exclusionary campaign – this time from Land O’Frost – hits dads landofrost7below the belt in a variety of ways. But you’ll have to look carefully for its greatest offense, which is buried beneath several gender-biased marketing methods.

No, it’s not the spinoff webpage section which uses its company name for a play-on-words covering everything related to parenthood, er, um, motherhoodlandomoms.com.landofrost2.jpg

It’s not the numerous web graphics which speak only to moms with language like, “Ah, mom life,” or definitions of “mom-ism.” Imagine the strange vibe a dad might get who visits landofrost.com or landomoms.com, and is repeatedly having to read that he’s a “mom,” which at the very minimum makes it clear with whom the company wishes to communicate.

It’s not social media posts, which landofrost6.pngsometimes awkwardly encourage both “moms and dads” to check out its tips and recipes at its one-gender-only named site.

It’s not even the problematic trademarked pledge above its logo that insists, “From our family to yours since 1958.” Keep in mind, this is a family company headed by three consecutive dads, who one can only assume wish for dads to be treated as important as anyone else. landofrost8.png

What’s really disappointing is how the one-and-only dad imagery found on the front page of landomoms.com reveals a dad shouting and pointing at a tiny child who’s cowering on the ground, in the corner (right). Don’t dads deserve a little better than this? Does Land O’Frost really want to use its only photo of a dad in a terribly negative light? It’s not that the story’s topic itself isn’t valid – it’s a helpful topic of interest for parents – it’s just that there should be a greater quantity and quality of dad images. It would be nice to see an equal mix of genders celebrating the good in parenting, rather than furthering negative, stereotypical imagery of dads who aren’t happy, engaged, nurturing and caring parents.

That really was never true long ago, and it certainly isn’t now.

Land O’Frost seems like a fine company with quality products and strong community involvement. We say celebrate all that is good and show the nation what its story represents: how it was founded and carried on by three wonderful fathers who remained devoted to their families for generations.

What do you say, Land O’Frost? It’s not just dads and moms who are watching – it’s the kids. A renewed approach to marketing will remind future generations that family matters, and that the motto above your logo isn’t merely words.