How to talk to dad

The family has gone through many changes over the last century. Parenting roles become less specific to men or women, moms develop their careers, parents separate and mix, people of different cultural, ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds come together in union to start families. Over the years, consumer brands have had the challenge of navigating these shifting waters in order to speak to their target family audiences.

Marketing to fathers is tough.

Marketing to mothers is much easier, which makes sense because mothers have been (and still are) primary buyers of household goods for decades. Marketers have had lots of practice. We also spend billions more on mom than on dad for their respective holidays. It’s also difficult to reach fathers because over the past century, our culture has had mixed feelings about who fathers are and their role in the family.

Just think about the dads on TV. Up until the 1960s, shows often featured an intelligent, commanding, level-headed father (Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show). After the ’60s the pendulum swung and fathers were styled as bumbling, disrespectful, lazy, deranged, or generally incompetent fools (Married with Children, Family Guy, Everybody Loves Raymond). A study by the National Fatherhood Initiative found that fathers are eight times more likely than mothers to be portrayed negatively on network television, writes John Tierney in his New York Times piece.

Why the swing? Among several possible reasons: as parenting dynamics shifted and mothers grew their careers, the typical “mom” became harder to stereotype. Also, over time, women became the primary sitcom watchers, and this audience likes a mom in charge. And hey, idiot dads on TV are funny even to men; we all laugh at Homer Simpson’s foibles (which were first written by a team of men). But we certainly haven’t see good examples of fatherhood worth aspiring to.

Over the past decade, however, we are beginning to see a more complex portrait emerge (Parenthood, This Is Us). Shows today are redefining — or at least re-exploring — what it means to be a father: a complicated web of responsibility, full of joyful encounters, humbling gaffes, and sometimes raw, grave consequences.

Branding has seen similar shifts: brands have had to adapt their messages to speak to a more complex father persona. Those that succeed are the ones that leave stereotypes behind and seek out real fathers and bring their stories to life. Here are a few examples of the bad and the good marketing campaigns that speak to fatherhood.

Missing the mark.

Here are a couple of examples of brands propagating the bumbling-fool stereotype in these one-off ads:

Hanes, 2009

While silly, the ad perpetuates the stereotype of inept men in the home incapable of the most basic of domestic duties. Imagine the genders were reversed and how strange and off-putting this would sound. Odd move for a classic man’s brand like Hanes.


Yoplait, 2016

Cute no doubt, but unlikely that any parent, mother or father, would want their children to disrespect the other parent in such a way, let alone receive a treat for it.


More like this.

From hilarious to heartfelt, here are a few well-executed Father’s Day marketing campaigns over the past few years.


Go Ask Dad
Gillette, 2017

This campaign helps to solidify Gillette’s position as a heartfelt dad brand, especially in conjunction with the release of their first ever razor designed for assisted shaving, Gillette TREO. It showcases real men with real sons, and strikes a chord with what true fatherhood is about: teaching, guiding, and being there for your children.


Give Dad Nothing
Century 21, 2016

Another route: go for funny, but in authentic dad style. What better gift to give dad than the ultimate dad joke?


First Fatherhood Moments
Dove Men+Care, 2015

Dove Men+Care has done an excellent job revolutionizing the skincare space — a category once marketed almost exclusively to women — defining male strength as embracing care for oneself and others.

Being there.

Lastly, while not Father’s Day campaigns per se, I had to throw in these last two spots. I never thought Windex would bring me to tears short of spraying it in my eyes, but I dare you to watch it and not sniffle.

Does being there for someone matter?
Dignity Health, 2017

The Story of Lucy
Windex, 2017


Happy Father’s Day.


“In fatherhood we know the elemental magic and joy of humanity.”

—Richard Nixon, on signing Father’s Day into law.