Is it time to rethink dads?
For brands targeting families, it’s all about mum. We market to her throughout every stage of pregnancy and beyond, ensuring that branding, advertising and every bit of communication connects with her. Quite rightly so; sitting at the heart of the household, mum has the biggest influence over family-related spending. But, where does this leave dad?
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics confirmed that as female breadwinners hike, dads are playing a bigger role in family life - the number of stay-at-home dads reached a record 227,000 last year, 10% up on the previous year.
This doesn’t come as a big surprise to me, or I suspect many other marketers. The shift from hands-on dad to hands-on family hero is well played out in many campaigns but are brands really prepared to reflect real family life in their communications?
Take Kingsmill, last year they made the move to introduce a new modern family, focused on ‘Kingsmill dad’. It featured him wrangling with his teenage kids whilst doing the supermarket shop and making sandwiches. Their portrayal of modern family life shows that they ‘get it’, striking a chord with their market.
An interesting observation from the men in our office is that dads are often shown as ‘clowns’ or ‘a bit simple’. I am still cringing about the Windows ‘Epic share’ ad featuring a dancing dad. It’s a good scenario to demonstrate the technology’s benefits of sharing instantly, but it’s not funny, it’s just awful and can only be viewed from behind a cushion. Not everyone shares this view, but it made me run a mile from Microsoft.
It’s refreshing to see how modern life has conspired to help men and women come together to share responsibility for their children, and it’s great that dads have the opportunity to become more than weekend dads to their offspring. Dad doesn’t have to be the stereotypical absent figure who misses bath times and school plays due to the demands of work anymore. But he also doesn’t have to be ‘perfect dad’ that is aimed at mums or the ‘idiot dad’ aimed at kids.
We held a series of ‘dad exclusive’ panels to find out how their lives have changed, how they are more involved with their family and whether advertisers really get them.
Feedback ranged from those who accepted their fate as a new family man: “You take part in your family and you don’t go straight to the pub anymore.” “You are frowned upon if you don’t take part in pick-ups, hair drying…” to those who craved the pre-family freedom, “the worst thing about family life is that it’s very tiring and you don’t have time to yourself.”
So what does this mean for brands aimed at the family market? Should men be targeted as dads or is this a step too far? Here are a few of the insights that we found.
The number one concern for dads was future and finances. While they were drawn to emotional storytelling advertising, dads rejected the ‘branded’ nature of them. They want to a rational reason to buy, preferably partnered with an offer.
Dads cherish time spent one-on-one with their children, so brands should look at bringing those rare and treasured moments to life in communication – from building something together and sharing a book to even debating about the best filling to have on a sandwich.
Our panel felt more emotional after becoming fathers and were more open to discussing feelings. But while they enjoyed emotion-led advertising, there is an art to getting it right – not sickly sweet, but rooted in real moments with their children.
If you get it right, humour can be a winning format and family life provides fertile ground for many humorous moments. Consider the funny things that kids say, children acting like adults and being able to be a child yourself again. But beware about portraying dad as the joker – they’re tired of it. One dad put it beautifully – “There should be an Atticus Finch moment. It’s okay for dad not to be portrayed as cool as long as it’s okay in the end”.
Overall, we found that dads would prefer to be recognised as doing enjoyable, simple things with their kids and who, whilst their children may go out in odd socks, get it right in the end.
Sue Benson, managing director at The Market Family