It’s probably too early to schedule the burial of the doofus dad in popular culture, but two excellent articles came out this week that indicate that the voices of moms and dads around the country are being heard: portraying dads as inept is neither appealing to us as an audience, nor is it appealing to us as consumers.
First, AdWeek published The Demise of the Doofus Dad in Ads. The article rehashes the Huggies controversy and turnaround, but more importantly, it asks the question, how do advertisers accurately reflect the modern dad. To answer this question, they go to two of our favorite thinkers on these issues, Jeremy Adam Smith and Donald Unger. Here are some of the great points they made:
Says Smith: “More men are saying being an involved caregiver, even if you are the breadwinner, makes life more meaningful—which sounds warm and fuzzy, but also has very specific implications for the economy and the marketplace.”
“The image of male domestic incompetence has long been an effective selling tool because the marketing target was women, who liked that image or at least identified with it,” explains Donald N.S. Unger, a lecturer at MIT and author of Men Can: The Changing Image and Reality of Fatherhood in America. “When patriarchal power was more monolithic, those ads had the character of making fun of the powerful.”
“The economic landscape, where women under 30 make more than men, has made serious inroads in the domestic sphere in recent years,” says Unger. “Younger people are rewriting their domestic scripts along looser, more personalized, more functionalist lines, forming domestic arrangements that fit their beliefs and circumstances rather than traditional patterns.”
“A female physician, attorney or business exec whose domestic deal is that she’s the breadwinner and her husband is the homemaker is much less likely to find the doofus dad image funny,” says Unger. “That would suggest that her children are not safe with their father, that she had been irresponsible in ceding them to his care.”
And some conclusions from ad industry executives:
Eric Weisberg, executive creative director at JWT New York, says it is all about striking a balance. “Even 10 years ago, we were mainly talking to moms,” he says. “Now there has been a shift. Mom remains core to the strategies, but we’re talking to dads to be sure we are good with them too.”
Bruce Jacobson, associate creative director at Y&R New York, agrees. “You have to say, OK, you know what? This is a little bit of a shift,” he says. “Our target used to be mom. Now, maybe it’s dad. So let’s try to come up with stuff that is going to jibe with his reality.”
The second article came out on CNN.com today, No more dumb old dad: Changing the bumbling father stereotype. The author, Josh Levs points out “movement under way among dads in America that’s changing what you see on TV,” and cites many dads from around the country including Kevin Metzger, David Holland, Chris Routly and there work advocating for a new, more representative, portrayal of dads.
Both articles also cite critics that say bumbling dads exist, they are funny, and they sell product. As we posted last month, we disagree, and believe it’s possible to be funny while representing modern dads. Seems clear that the media is hearing the message.