Milking an old stereotype for all it’s not worth

Whenever dads are used in commercials, they’re often portrayed as comic fodder: goofy, bumbling, inept, clumsy. The dad joke isn’t just something humorous your father once said – he is the joke. We’re not laughing with him – we’re laughing at him.

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The California Milk Advisory Board recently featured dad in a TV spot, and while he’s not the butt of jokes, its marketing decides to take a different approach. Here they attempt to offer dad props, but it turns out to be nothing more than backhanded praise with an open belief that mom is the real, primary parent.

You’ll be surprised at how many insults can be leveled toward dad in this 30-second ad.realcaliforniamilk

“Welcome to Saturday,” the ad’s voiceover slowly declares. “Sure, mom does all the heavy lifting during the week, but on this day dad makes flapjacks dripping with hot, melting California butter. And somehow dad’s the MVP: Most Valuable Parent. It’s just not fair.”

A gaggle of kids then scoot by with assurance: “Love you mom.”

Let’s look at the script piece-by-piece.

“…mom does all the heavy lifting during the week…” – Really? All the heavy lifting? In today’s modern dual-income families, don’t dads contribute a little more than the old-fashioned stereotypes of the ‘50s? Besides, why discount dad’s role as a breadwinner that provides for the family? Whether you’re stay-at-home or employed outside the home, both roles are equally important no matter the gender.

“…somehow dad’s the MVP…” – Did the ad just say “somehow,” as if to imply it was a fluke that he could be equally, competent and valuable to a family as a mom? Let’s stop keeping score as if parenting and/or housework is an equal 50-50 split. That’s a fallacy, and completely unfair to the spouse who works outside the home to provide. This kind of talk only creates a parenting divide.

“It’s just not fair” – This line might be the kicker of them all. Is it not fair that dad could possibly be an equal parent? It’s as if the California Milk Advisory Board is afraid they might have offended moms, so they have to offer assurance by way of the kids declaring, “Don’t worry, we still love you mom.”

Two other factors are at play in this ad. One is that you never actually see dad’s face. Granted, the food is the real star, but the child’s smile was shown. Couldn’t there have been better acknowledgment of dad, perhaps by showing the same warm grin on his face?

What’s more, the ad closes by declaring that its milk is delivered “from our family farms to your table.” Family includes everyone – even dad – and isn’t it ironic that the very people who deliver this product have been discounted by the product it represents?

If some company told women they don’t know about sports, home repair or cars, they’d be considered sexist. There’d be public uproar. And all of it would be justified.

But when another says that dad doesn’t do as much as mom, he’s not as valuable to a family as mom and he’s simply not an equal parent – we’re good?

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Spilling drinks on dads

As a national voice for the non-alcoholic beverage industry, the American Beverage Association (ABA) sure doesn’t seem to represent the national voice.

Founded in 1919, this trade organization includes producers and bottlers of soft drinks, bottled water and other non-alcoholic beverages. Unless you’re a sports history fan, you may not recognize the ABA acronym, but you know some of the drinks it represents: Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper.

These major brands appear in a commercial together – that’s right, together – to help tout how the ABA is offering more drinks with less sugar and smaller portions.americanbeverage2.png

Only a message as important as this could help competing brands join forces for a greater cause. That greater cause, of course, is selling more drinks. However, that’s still a tough sell for soda makers who regularly come under fire for contributing to America’s obesity and overall health problems — items of concern to parents everywhere.

So who does the ABA enlist as a voice of reason in its ad?

Not both parents, who in today’s modern world share influence over their kids’ nutrition. Instead, they tout only mom as the one who watches everyone’s diet. That national voice should include dads if that’s indeed what the ABA represents.

Instead, the 30-second ad remains stuck in time and saddled by old-fashioned stereotypes that undermine fathers as equal, competent parents while the narrator explains:

“Everyone’s gotta listen to mom when it comes to reducing the sugar in your family’s diet…because we know mom wants what’s best.”

The ABA’s work is important, and their message is vital to winning back customers for its members. But ignoring the contribution of dads to families is an unfortunate oversight for these major drink manufacturers and its lobbying group. Again, dads are very much part of the national voice.americanbeverage1.png

There’s simply no reason to suggest that dads aren’t involved in raising children and taking care of families. Besides, it offers an incredible disservice to mom by heaping all of this responsibility on her shoulders while indirectly implying that a mom’s place is in the kitchen.

Its leadership owes parents a swift apology. Modern families want new choices when it comes to drinks, accompanied by equally progressive ads they represent. They also want to be treated like valued customers. To be sure, the topic affects both parents, not just moms.

A change in approach for these beverages will signal a refreshing, new era that appeals to everyone — and everyone certainly includes fathers.

Parental equality made easy

Dads are often told they’re inadequate in varied ways. They didn’t do the diaper correctly. They didn’t fold the laundry properly. The dishwasher wasn’t loaded right. And of course, the ever-popular dads don’t know how to cook.

Deep down, we all know this is absurd. When dads are “corrected” for doing things wrong, that’s unfair because they didn’t do it wrong; they may have done it different, but different isn’t necessarily wrong.

So now we have Unilever, the world’s largest consumer goods company and operator of Country Crock, telling us not countrycrock1.pngonly that dads can’t bake, but can’t even handle easy baking.

It’s true that home cooking is more often associated with women than men, but that doesn’t mean companies should exclude dads. If anything, there’s a missed opportunity to covet an untapped market. Companies would be wise to target fathers just the same.

Via stereotypes and old fashioned attitudes, home repair is more connected with men than women, but Lowe’s regularly employs women in its marketing. There’s not a single female player in the NFL, but the league still spends millions trying to reach women and moms. Harley-Davidson has benefited greatly by pursuing female customers.

Couldn’t the rest of the marketing world learn from these success stories and apply them to fathers?

Ironically, in the culinary world, professional, high-status cooking is a male-dominated sport. According to Ann Cooper, author of “A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen: The Evolution of Women Chefs,” 55 percent of people working in the culinary industry are men.

The dads can’t cook myth also does an equal disservice to women by inferring that a mother’s place is in the kitchen. The reality is that it’s really not that hard to follow a recipe. Yet countless food manufacturers refuse to include dad on their websites, in promotions, or on commercials. Even micro meals — arguably the easiest food prep of all — don’t speak to fathers.

countrycrock2.jpgWe implore Unilever and Country Crock to take a strong look at how dads are treated and used in their marketing. Now is the time for its creative agency to view dads with a clean slate by erasing all the myths and misguided labels, which drag fathers down from being viewed as equal and adept parents.

Companies who’d like to increase revenue and brand loyalty need to implement a different marketing strategy if they want to reach dads.

Women will never be treated with equality in the workforce until we start to treat dads the same at home. The two are intertwined. Exhibiting a gender bias in both is wrong, but the good news is that it’s fairly quick and easy to start making website edits. The rest of the company culture will follow and positively affect its other family of products.

You can make that happen today, Unilever. Families are watching.

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?

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.