Dads Aren't Bumbling Idiots in Ads Anymore: Is That a Good Thing?

Two fathers on the upsides and the downsides to being a newly desirable target demographic

dadwagon_tideprincessdress.jpg

A still from Tide's "princess dress" commercial, which stars a father who actually knows how to do laundry (Tide)

Twice a month, a panel of dads discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, they discuss advertisers' new interest in competent fathers. Part one of the discussion is below; part two is here.


I remember the old days, when the only media dad was a bumbling dad, flummoxed by diapers, mystified by breakfast cereals, as incompetent at managing a household as his wife was hyper-efficient. In sitcoms, and in the commercials that aired during sitcoms, Dad was comic relief; everyone knew that power in the home (economic power, especially) resided with Mom.

When I became a father myself, a little over four years ago, I began to watch these media moments with increasing dismay. Was I such a bumbling father? Were we all? No! I could change a diaper, I could bottle-feed, I could make it through a weekend—or longer!—while my wife was on a business trip. Who were these writers and marketers to assume that I played no role in how the household functioned?

Once I began blogging about fatherhood, over at DadWagon.com, I discovered that other bloggers took this issue very seriously. Rebel Dad (at RebelDad.com, of course) even staged a boycott of Pampers after receiving one too many "Dear Mom" emails from Procter & Gamble. That was the kind of thing I cheered. Dad power!

Now, however, the marketers have realized their error, and dads—involved, caring, competent dads like me—are coming to the foreground. We see them with their daughters in car commercials, and with their daughters in other car commercials, and sometimes they even use Google! And not just to, you know, Google stuff. At last, we fathers have been recognized as an important demographic deserving of the attention of America's most creative capitalists.

Wait, whuh? Without getting too Marxist about all of this, there's something wrong here. I get the craving for media recognition of our achievements. But the fact is, that recognition, only now coming into effect, is happening for the express purpose of selling us things we might not actually want or need. No Procter & Gamble exec argued for a shift in marketing strategy solely because he or she had decided that we competent fathers deserved respect. No carmaker truly hopes that their 30-second spot will solely be seen as a fiery salvo in the SAHD revolution. Nope. They want to sell us shit, plain and simple.

Which is why lately I'm feeling nostalgic for those days when my ilk went unappreciated. For years, I think, we existed under the radar, one of the last untargeted demographics in America, roaming free across the land, able to ignore advertising messages written not for us but for our wives. We could make up our own minds about which diapers and cars to buy for our children, without the clutter of ad copy to distract and confuse us. We could smirk and roll our eyes at the hapless dads of sitcom TV, knowing with utmost certainty That's not us. And, most important, we could watch the Super Bowl without worrying that some commercial would make us burst into tears.

But those days are long gone. Now the marketers have us in their sights, and they're not going to let go—not until they've further subdivided us into ever more precisely calibrated demographics (older dads, younger dads, tattooed dads, gay dads, old gay dads divorced from younger, tattooed gay dads) and plucked every last nickel from our PayPal accounts. And you know what? We'll thank them for it, tearfully grateful for their kind acknowledgment of our diaper-changing prowess. This—this degraded state—is Dad 2.0.

See what you've wrought, Rebel Dad?

–Matt Gross

Presented by

Matt Gross & Theodore Ross

Matt Gross and Theodore Ross write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a JewMatt Gross is the author of The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World.

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