These days branding, including personal branding, is a hot topic. In thinking about the fatherhood “brand” we began to examine how men, and specifically fathers, are depicted in the media. Let’s take for example the way men are portrayed in television advertisements, especially those aimed at a male audience.
In a 2010 marketing journal article, Gentry and Harrison shared the results of a study they conducted on the depiction of men in advertising between 2007 and 2009. They reviewed nearly 1,400 advertisements targeted at men that aired during major sports programming. They found that 0.1% of those ads showed men in a domestic role and 0.5% showed fathers with emotional connections to their children. Nearly 1 in 10 of the ads depicted violent images of men but virtually none showed men in positive family roles.
Because of this outdated and negative light in which men have been portrayed in the media, in 2012 BCCWF began a collaboration with Unilever to explore this issue more deeply. In our research, we found that:
• The very nature of masculinity is in flux.
• Men struggle more than ever to balance their roles as breadwinner and engaged father.
• A large percentage of dads consider themselves to be equal partners with their wives when it comes to the responsibilities of raising their children.
• Dads believe their image in the media is outdated and flawed.
Inaccurate media portrayals can have a significant negative effect on fathers and how they are viewed by society. However, there is some recent, encouraging evidence that the portrayal of dads in the media is changing. For example, in 2013, Huggies released a commercial that showed a group of fathers and their babies, with a voice-over that said, “To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: Dads, alone with their babies, in one house, for five days.” Many fatherhood bloggers initiated a petition to change the ads, seeing this depiction of the inept father at home as pejorative. In response, Huggies replaced the commercial with a spot that had a different voice-over that implied that fathers were discerning diaper experts, rather than neglectful parents.
It appears that other advertisers have paid attention to recent research, blogs, and media coverage as well. The 2015 Super Bowl commercials contained several campaigns that depicted fathers in a much more favorable light. Toyota, Nissan and Dove Men+Care, for example, all aired high-profile commercials depicting fathers in positive and loving relationships with their offspring. These ads have received overwhelmingly positive reviews. As Devra Prywes of video analytics firm Unruly stated, “Ads featuring dads tend to outperform others in terms of sharing and positive sentiment”.
We believe that appealing to fathers is good for business and certainly good for dads. Depictions of “The New Dad” are clearly on the increase, and have the potential to positively impact new fathers as they transition into their role as shared caregivers. Witnessing portraits of caring, involved, competent fathers can help dispel the negative stereotypes, and create a more accurate and positive image of fathers as both professionals and caregivers.