Dads in ads: highlights from 2014

16 December 2014

Jeremy Davies writes:

Advertising is all around us – it is shaped by, and helps shape, our culture.

A lot of the time, advertisers portray dads as ham-fisted, lazy or goon-like, overseen by mums who are all-knowing – the magical glue that holds families together. Our blog from Christmas 2012 explored how this played out in supermarkets’ festive advertising that year.

So when adverts show positive and diverse images of fatherhood, that’s something to celebrate.

With this in mind, we’ve chosen our top 5 ‘Dads in Ads’ awards for 2014. Here’s the rundown….do please feel free to tell us what you think – and whether there are any we’ve missed – in the comments section below….

5. McDonald’s

McDonald’s could have made the obvious choice and shown the mother as the central character in its portrayal of a family beset by childhood illness, for its Ronald McDonald House Charities advert. But instead it chose the dad.

4. Dove and 3. Halifax

Other big brands, like Dove in the US (4) and Halifax in the UK (3), made grand gestures of acknowledging active, involved fatherhood as something to be valued and celebrated (although in the case of Dove, the campaign was linked to Father’s Day, and pretty much anyone can support dads for one day a year – it’s the other 364 that count!).

2. Cheerios

Cheerios went so far as to present a moving portrayal of two gay adoptive dads for its Canadian campaign (2) – something this radical has certainly yet to appear in British TV ad breaks.

So…who could beat the Cheerios ad to the Number 1 spot?

Well we all know that adverts with dads in are usually trying to sell things to women. In a sense the dads are there as eye candy. This tends to result in dads being characterised as square-jawed and heroic or, all too often, as big kids themselves (this moving but oddly pitched Robinsons advert is an example) and/or hopeless buffoons – infantilised and waiting for the next instruction from their super-competent wives.

‘Real’ dads, meanwhile, get on with the day to day challenges of hands-on fatherhood – and in adverts they rarely get a look-in.

Which brings us to our No.1 advert of 2014.

And the winner is…

Reluctant as we are to be seen to support a baby milk substitute manufacturer (we are keen advocates for breastfeeding – and pretty much a lone voice in emphasising how crucial dads can be in supporting it), SMA offers an interesting example of an advertiser which seems to be getting on board with the involved fatherhood agenda.

Last year, the company launched its ‘You’re doing great’ campaign, flooding us with images of mums coping with babies and toddlers at their most frustrating. So far, so obvious – this is a market where mothers are the major client, and the first adverts in the campaign played squarely to that.

What’s interesting is this year’s follow-up. Dads may not appear for long, but they’re in there – and crucially, they’re just quietly getting on with hands-on fathering….no heroism, no ‘knowing smile’ from an ‘expert’ mum in the background, no ‘boys will be boys’ tomfoolery.

This is not an advert people will have been dissecting at the water-cooler. It’s fair to say that other advertisers have covered similar territory in the past (Sainsbury’s has shown everyday fathering to great effect, for example).

But as an evolution from its earlier incarnation; as a recognition of involved dads’ growing role and stature; and especially given a context as traditionally maternal as baby milk; we think this SMA advert is worthy of the top spot.

What next?

Could it be that mainstream advertisers are waking up to the idea that what women want is partners just as comfortable at the baby-changing table as they are in the boardroom – and that normalising men’s hands-on fathering rather than resorting to cliche will be the ‘next big thing’? Or is this just a flash in the pan?

Talking of which, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see manufacturers of cleaning products following SMA’s lead, dragging themselves out of the 1950s, and showing dads beaming with pride at their spotless kitchens?

It’s nearly 2015…stranger things have happened….


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