Ashton Kutcher: a dad’s best hope

They say ‘good things come to those who wait,’ but it’s likely Ashton Kutcher never listened.kutcher

Upon leaving the University of Iowa in 1996, Kutcher rose to meteoric fame by immediately modeling, and then landing on Fox’s long-running “That ‘70s Show” by 1998, where he gained his instant stardom.

He appeared in his first film by 1999, and deftly spread his wings by starring in and producing a varied mix of shows, including the clever “Punk’d,” the cult film “Dude, Where’s My Car?,” and the psychological thriller “The Butterfly Effect.”

And his acting accomplishments may seem like nothing compared to his prowess on social media, particularly Twitter, where he became the first user to reach one million followers in 2009.

Yet as he reaches a nearly 20 years of work in Hollywood, Kutcher is taking on his biggest role yet: dadvocate.

Last October, he and Mila Kunis gave birth to daughter Wyatt, and just a few months later, Kutcher had become victim to dad exclusion like so many fathers before him. So, this past March, Kutcher complained about the lack of pubic diaper changing stations on his Facebook page, a post that went viral and caught the attention of a New York state senator, Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan).

Hoylman’s proposed an amendment would change the New York Civil Rights Act and require many newly constructed or renovated public buildings to provide diaper-changing rooms in men’s rooms where they are also present in kutcher2women’s rooms.

Kutcher, meanwhile, launched a change.org petition intended to have Target and Costco offer changing stations to both moms and dads in their stores.

How this plays out remains to be seen, but for now, both Kutcher and Hoylman should be enthusiastically lauded for their efforts.

With all due respect to our lawmakers and government, Kutcher, in particular, carries a lot of weight and power, and he may be a key figure in putting dads on a rightful equal ground.

However, real change isn’t going to happen in a restroom, it’s going to happen when perception shifts – and that can only occur when principal influences begin to treat dads like they count as much as moms when it comes to parenting.

Those influences are in the marketing and advertising of the products and services we use, in the media which shapes our attitudes, and in how Hollywood portrays the dad character.

As long as Jif Peanut Butter trumps its one-sided marketing slogan, and Kix cereal speaks only to moms, and American Baby magazine employs old fashioned writing that ignores fathers, and writers slap unfair and embarrassing stereotypes on dads which only apply to a minority – and thus we keep reading, and buying and using these products – diaper changing stations for dads will be merely pacifistic tools demanded by law.

And only fathers would see the change anyway; indeed, it would be a welcoming and needed change in law, but only dads would benefit and see the restroom modification.

Instead, if Kutcher could really get to the heart of the matter, and use his influence to encourage others to include dads in positive ways through marketing, media and entertainment, the “#1 Dad” mug he receives from his daughter on his first Father’s Day this June will be more valuable than any acting honor he’s ever accepted.

And letting everyone see it would make for the best tweet ever.

Three cheers for Cheerios making it right

cheeriosloveLast April, we penned an entry which spoke of the wonder of Cheerios.

In our estimation, it has been the perfect cereal since birth, a spectacle of simplicity combining a healthy, any-time-of-day food option with surprising versatility for enjoyment beyond basic sustenance.

Our many tastes change with age – clothing, books, TV, music, movies – but not Cheerios. We’ve enjoyed it our entire lives, from birth to old age, and there aren’t many cereals or even entertainment options which can claim that.

Cheerios has securely been part of our lives. We love it. It loves us. Its round shape is practical, if not symbolic, a reminder of our eternal and endless love, which like a circle has no beginning and no end.

But then, like a marketing executive suddenly turned to the Jif Side of the Force, we noticed a bizarre, Kix-like web page that made us think otherwise.

It was as if Cheerios instantly soured to everyone – moms and dads, young and old, large and small – by showing favoritism to one and ignoring the other, trying to tear apart so many of us that shared this common, charming cereal bond.

That’s when we wrote about this marketing aberration which made us so confused and angry.

You may recall that at that time, Cheerios was actually getting a lot of praise for its dad-loving TV commercial, which may have been the reason its web-based dad exclusion flew under the radar.

We tried communicating with General Mills several times, but to no avail.

Fast forward to today, some nine months later, when we occasionally like to check up on our topics, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that web graphic no longer exists at cheerios.com.

Eager to know more about the change, we reached out elsewhere, this time with the excellent Kirstie Foster, public relations and social media director at General Mills.

Through Foster’s mediation, Cheerios responded with the following:

Hi there! We’ve always thought the world of dads. Many factors led us to the decision that it was finally time to show it.

How about that? No, it wasn’t a direct shout out to dadmarketing, but we like to think we had a hand in the change.

We may be a small, upstart organization, but our influence and message shouldn’t be understated. Dads have been left out of the marketing messages too long, too often. Cheerios no doubt recognized that, and we’re proud of those involved with the change at General Mills.

Think about Jif’s “Choosy Moms Choose Jif.” How sexist and old fashioned is that?

Cheerios changed for the better, so why can’t Jif? Why can’t others?

We’ll keep beating the drum until others reach Cheerios status, and maybe together – through sharing, talking and communicating – we’ll help more of them become products we can stick with for a lifetime.

One small tweet from Maggie, one giant leap for change

A few days ago we retweeted a story about this young girl who fought back against a sexist sign, and ultimately claimed victory as the sign was removed.maggie

Her modest, ingenious and charming complaint challenged the higher beings at a store in England, and executives listened.

Way to go, Maggie!

Her protest got us thinking about the foolishness of Jif’s tagline, Choosy Moms Choose Jif.

If a young girl can get the attention of a large retailer, why can’t Jif take inventory of its own sexist practice? Doesn’t their parent company, Smucker’s, want to market their goods to all and be perceived as a modern, progressive, with-the-times business? What does their four-word marketing message say to households without a mom present?

We’ve discussed some of Jif’s plight before, and again, and yet again.

Jif’s stale slogan was created decades ago, during a bygone era when mothers generally handled cooking, cleaning and household shopping. Jif is essentially hanging that chore on mom in present day, and indirectly, the cooking and cleaning, too.  Doesn’t Jif’s approach remind you a little of this?

Yes, even as the year 2015 looms, an embarrassing, inane catchphrase has long passed the old-fashioned phase; in today’s world, the saying looks downright irrational.

The interesting thing about Maggie’s dispute is that despite its marvelous simplicity, it only changed in-store wording for the better. For example, another major retailer, ToysRUs, still categorizes shopping selections as “Boys’ Toys” and “Girls’ Toys.”

So, in theory, little has changed and her fight could still go on.

Jif, on the other hand, is so stuck in time and dead set in its ways that we know there’s still a long way to go toward making things right. Jif is indeed a tough peanut to crack (they won’t even respond to us, or acknowledge us), but we know at least one 7-year-old who could bring the entire empire to its knees.

What do you say, Maggie?

Search your feelings

So many people had been waiting for this weekend all year.

The anticipation was high, many combed the Internet first, and when the moment finally arrived, it was met with great enthusiasm – if not simultaneous screaming heard across the land – at the instant when people were finally allowed to obtain what they desired all along.

The new Star Wars trailer was unveiled.

In my circle of life, I don’t know any mothers who care about Star Wars. There must be plenty of fanmoms out there, but I think it’s a safe bet that they’re in the minority.starwars

The Star Wars culture is especially dominated by men and boys who grew up emulating Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Yoda.

Let’s face it, you’re far more likely to find a boy wearing a Star Wars t-shirt than a girl, and theater seats at next December 18’s midnight showings will mostly be males, many of whom dads who will no doubt bring their sons and impart lifelong movie fandom to their younglings.

Yet, is it not interesting how movies like Star Wars don’t try to market solely to dads?

Of course, the film’s inherent aggressive tone will appeal to a more masculine side, but movie marketers aren’t trying to seal the deal with forced pleadings to dad in the same way Jif and Kix think that shopping and feeding children must be mom’s solitary birthrights.

A mega-successful franchise like Star Wars certainly has its chances.

For sure, its movie marketers have multiple opportunities to play the father-son card with Luke Skywalker supposedly taking on the wise Obi-Wan-type master role, its interminable Jedi master-student themes, and the ever-quotable “I am your father.”

Rather, Star Wars appeals to everyone with a trailer that does not disappoint and leaves fans of all genders and parental entities feeling a part of the Force.

This Black Friday will go down as the best in history thanks to Star Wars, for it didn’t even involve the overused and illogical term doorbusters, nor did it disrupt and creep into anyone’s Thanksgiving.

And Star Wars didn’t make dads look or feel like turkeys.

Comparing bad apples to good oranges

We’re all looking to eat healthier in life, and judging by smarter food options that seem to be growing more readily halosavailable in the grocery and at restaurants, businesses are listening.

That’s making harder work for marketers, who’ve spent a lifetime selling the “sizzle” to generations who think only of their taste buds first, and taste buds second. Many still want instant gratification and happiness, and if that comes in the form of ridiculously unhealthy junk food, then so be it.

Most grocery stores spend little time on produce name brand offerings, and simply stock them accordingly with what they can get available through their distribution channels. The selection is all good, but as consumers, we don’t necessarily look on a pear for a brand label that doesn’t exist.

Enter Halos, and its promise of pure goodness grown inside the tiny wonder of the mandarin orange, perhaps nature’s even more perfect food than the ever-venerable banana and its once ubiquitous tagline.

I love and eat a lot of fresh produce, but I have to admit that I have never really cared much for the mandarin orange.

But the way Halos markets its fruit made me purchase some specifically from them, and isn’t that what marketing is supposed to do?

For starters, check out its addicting, sensational commercials with an entertaining, simple attitude that turn out to be memorable, and downright funny.

Halos could have easily taken the tired Jif approach and targeted only moms, but guess what – it included several dads in its brilliant Super Bowl quality spots – validating what we’ve been saying all along: fathers have the intellect and capacity to shop, and the instinct to feed their kids.

Go figure.

Now, wander over to its pleasant website – halosfun.com – where you’ll find a refreshing minimalism and uncomplicatedness in full force, reminiscent of the simple mandarin itself. There you’ll see plenty of words backing up what Halos presented visually in their commercials.

Like so many grocery store foods prior (yes, we’re looking at you again, Jif), Halos had plenty of chances to exclude dads, but it didn’t by using words like people, families and even a story about good ‘ol pops. Here’s a sampling:

“Liz Coulter works with Wonderful Halos to help people make healthier snack choices.”

“For snacking, kids’ lunch boxes, and families on the go, Halos are nature’s perfect treat.”

“My Dad always told me about receiving an orange in his stocking at Christmas each year, and that they looked forward to that kind of treat.”

“In fact, families like yours have made Wonderful the fastest-growing brand in America’s produce aisles.”

The fact that half of the energy for Halos’ packing facility comes from green energy generation ultimately confirms what we’ve seen since the beginning: Halos is a winner.

The Halos brand may be relatively new to the grocery store aisle, but judging by their dad exclusion-free attitude, we think they’ll be around for a long time.

Keep up the heavenly work, Halos.

An unfair lady

You may have noticed the recent headline about the University of Tennessee athletic department dropping the “Lady” volunteersportion of its Volunteers nickname from all sports, except basketball.

I vividly remember the first time I was introduced to the word lady and its association with a sports team – at my local high school. Frankly, I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I had questions. Lots of them.

Why was a girls team purposely making themselves out to be different than the boys (and as a result, giving them a lesser-than feel) by putting this unnecessary word on their jerseys?

Did the athletic director or the coach dream up this humiliating way of separating the girls from the “official” sports teams otherwise known as the boys? (That was the message it appeared to send to myself, and others.)

At the very least, why couldn’t they be identified as girls, instead of such a formal word like lady, which really has more of an adult connotation?

Why use a prim and proper term like lady anyway? That implies refinement and politeness, hardly qualities I’d want in a sports team. (Then, that made me wonder if, during games, these female athletes would really sweat, or rather glow?)

And, treating all things equally, why then, didn’t the boys team use the moniker “gentlemen” on theirs?

It was as if the girls team was intentionally signaling everyone in attendance with a madcap scarlet letter and caution label right on their jerseys: no, we’re not the real sports team, we’re just the ladies sports team. If you want to see the official sports teams, you’ll have to watch the main event, the boys.

I’m all for recognizing two different genders and giving each their due, but this deliberate separation by way of a simple term left the entire situation feeling so unnecessary, cruel, unfair and demeaning.

The Academy Awards doesn’t call it a Lady Oscar for the actress; it’s just an Oscar.

We don’t have teachers, and lady teachers.

There aren’t parents, and lady parents.

All male cats aren’t just cats, with the others being called female cats.

Sure, there’s still plenty of absurdity in our world. Seeing a female city council member categorized as a councilman looks as inane as it is literally inaccurate.

Yet even other parts of the sports world have been slow to embrace equality. Despite the effects of Title IX, sports has taken a long time to get with the program.

For example, why must the men’s NCAA basketball logo be branded “Final Four” while the women’s logo states, “Women’s Final Four”? Shouldn’t the former be called “Men’s Final Four,” making all things uniform?

And speaking of uniforms, isn’t that what sports clothing is supposed to do – make things alike, as in unified? If you let one team wear “Volunteers” on a jersey, and their counterpart wear “Lady Volunteers,” does that really send a message of togetherness and harmony among the entire Tennessee athletic department?  And its women’s teams even have their own blue accent color to create a further divide.  Talk about a silent, unspoken rebellion.

Then you have the NBA. Yes, the NBA came first, but why is the women’s league deemed the WNBA? Shouldn’t the men’s league be rebranded the MNBA, or at least give the women’s league a name with a less secondary feel to it, such as the Liberty Basketball Association, or American Basketball Association?

What about the PGA vs. the LPGA? Are not the women golfers of equal stature? The “L” makes it seem like the lesser league that it’s not. When Michelle Wie played on the PGA tour from 2004-2008, did it not seem like the media had promoted her to the main/real/top league? NASCAR doesn’t have a special WNASCAR for female drivers like Danica Patrick.

What surprised me the most about Tennessee’s announcement was how some former female athletes felt they were losing their identity with the loss of the word lady.

Those athletes might read this post and charge us with political correctness gone too far. But this has nothing to do with political correctness. The term “PC” describes the attitude of being careful not to offend any group of people in society believed to have a disadvantage.

One could accurately argue that women have disadvantages in a variety of ways, but using the nickname Lady Vols certainly doesn’t create any advantage; it belittles, demeans and unnecessarily separates.

I suspect the athletes, fans and those around Tennessee athletics had become desensitized to a term that was so commonplace and deeply rooted in sports culture at their university. The winning ways of the successful hoops team no doubt made it famous and celebrated.

The term had grown and became its own separate brand with no one ever stopping to question how silly it looked in the first place. Can’t see the forest for the trees, kind of comes to mind here.

It’s a bit like Jif’s “Choosy Moms Choose Jif” saying, or Kix’s “Kid-Tested, Mother-Approved.” Frankly, I’m surprised more dads aren’t up in arms over them. But both moms and dads have probably become deadened to the phrases. Those old-fashioned sayings have been around for decades and after all, many people enjoy the products anyway, so the slogans go unnoticed, and in the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it vein, most really don’t ask questions.

But questions are important.

As for my original questions, no one’s really ever been able to succinctly answer them. I doubt anyone associated with Tennessee can either, especially those who strangely want to continue with the Lady Vols nickname for basketball only.

But our country was founded on dignity and equality, and dadmarketing will keep searching for it in our corner of the world.

We hope the folks at Tennessee do in theirs, too.

Cooking someone’s goose

For something as new as Jesben Slow Cooker Sauce, and for someone as young as its founder, its slogan is about as archaic and dated as it gets.

Doing its best Jif impersonation, Jesben advances an old-fashioned stereotype while demeaning not just dads, but moms too, as it implies the well-worn “moms cook, dads don’t” mantra we hear from tired products who often find it hard to innovate, giving the perception of an old-fashioned product.

Ironically, that should be the opposite of Jesben.jesben

Although we haven’t tried its sauce, we like the entire concept, its packaging and logo, and overall looks like a winner. Its primary slogan, Elevating & Simplifying The Art of Slow Cooking, is a much stronger description for a product that should want to be seen as pioneering. After all, slow cookers aren’t the simplest and quickest meals to make (nor clean up), yet the terms elevating and simplifying are the kind of words that make us want to give it a try.

And we get the fact that we’re all busy, but why put dads in parentheses, making them out to be the lesser cook, the secondary go-to-source for family meals?

Why not replace the “Moms (& Dads)” with the bolder and more succinct “Parents”? Better yet, how about eliminate the entire slogan entirely and stick with the much finer “Elevating” saying as the primary wordmark?

With an outdated slogan like the one on the front page of its website, we were fully expecting to see an FAQ with something degrading like, “Is it easy enough for dads to use?”

Jesben’s product is young, and it has a bright future.

Consider every customer, Jesben, and dads will consider you.