Why Dadvertising Doesn’t Quite Work On Me

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Jun 3, 2016

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More than ever, we are seeing domestic responsibilities like raising children, performing housework, attending school activities as belonging to both parents. But for all these ideas of egalitarianism in parenting, it is rare that we see them reflected back at us.

Until recently.

The world of advertising is a fascinating window into where we are as a culture. Advertisers are tasked with the singular goal of selling their products to the public of the moment, not the public of the future or past. They do this by forming connections with consumers on a deeper level than just “Buy My Product!” or “Give Me Your Money!” And recently, I have noticed ads are trying to connect with men in their role as fathers.

This is a startling phenomenon. It wasn’t too long ago that ads were only appealing to men’s machismo or libido. But ads in the US, like Microsoft’s organized dad blogger and Chryslers’s attempt to rebrand minivans as vehicles for fathers, are speaking directly to men as caretakers. In India, ads like Vodafone’s “Superdad” series and others are challenging traditional conceptions around what it means to be a father.

Clearly businesses are embracing dadvertising.

Advertising walks a thin line between inspiration and cynicism. Advertisers want to reach us emotionally and form a connection. But we, the audience, know that companies are pandering to us because they want us ultimately to buy things. They want us – moms, dads, kids – to see ourselves in their products and services.

Sometimes it works; sometimes it misses the mark. For example, I had to laugh at the idea that Microsoft wanted me to use their product because I could add a play date to my “busy calendar” using its voice control software. Microsoft obviously wants me to feel a sense of worth in having play dates and also feel that their products keep me organized like a Superdad with my very busy and important schedule.

The truth is, keeping track of play dates is pretty easy. It requires no special tools and scant effort to remember. Any basic calendar will help you remember to take your child to the neighbor’s house. But the ad (and the product) actually make the life of a house-dad sound very complicated and difficult, which is interesting because for decades, housewives and stay-at-home mothers have been treated as not having a “real job.” Women got the ads for detergent and diapers, but at the same time, were not given credit by society for doing a full-time job equivalent to those of their husbands.

Now that husbands are the stay-at-home parents, though, suddenly advertisers are flocking to tell dads that this job is really important and that fancy new computers and GPS phones are required to run the complex enterprise that is their household. They treat the dad like a CEO of a company. (It seems too obvious to point out that childcare is no less important when mothers do it.)

In that sense, dadvertising fills me with a bit of conflict. I appreciate seeing advertisers recognize that dads are starting to be primary caregivers and bring the idea into the mainstream. I appreciate that staying home is starting to be seen as something reasonable for fathers do with their time. But I also think there is something bothersome about the idea of ascribing the stay-at-home dad’s contribution to childcare with such importance.

Advertising is ultimately about shared culture; ads by definition must be larger than just one person or they don’t work. Advertisers are responding to social trends, and successful ads can often anticipate how we will live and interact with one another in the future. Even today, the majority of childcare is the responsibility of mothers; fathers are still largely expected to provide income and to work outside the house. With dad-vertising leading the way, there will likely be more mainstream acceptance of fathers contributing in the home.

And hopefully more mainstream acceptance of childcare as important work, regardless of who does it.

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Written By Rajat Soni

Rajat is an Indian-American stay-at-home father of two girls, aged 7 and 3, one of whom was born in India. After working as a lawyer and raising his girls for several years in Mumbai, he moved to the U.S., where he became the primary caretaker for his daughters while his wife started a new job. He’s interested in exploring the role modern fathers play in the lives of their young children.

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