The Demise of the Doofus Dad in Ads

A backlash against the bumbling father figure is paving the way for the Superdad

There are other recent campaigns featuring dads that have been pitch perfect. DDB London’s tug-at-the-heartstrings spot for the Volkswagen Polo takes the consumer on a father’s lifelong journey to keep his daughter safe—taking her to swimming lessons, greeting her first date at the front door and, finally, sending her off to college in a car deemed safe enough for his precious cargo. A similarly themed spot, also from Volkswagen, features a guy across different stages of life whose sole concern, whether shopping for a bike or a car, is how fast it goes. That’s till the final shot, when we see him checking out the VW Jetta with a newborn strapped to his chest, wondering only, “Is it safe?”

The image of the capable father is also showing up more in CPG marketing. Procter & Gamble paired the modern dad with a celebrity pitchman in a campaign from Publicis New York for Vicks VapoRub featuring New Orleans Saints star quarterback Drew Brees. In the spot, we see Brees applying the healing salve to the chest of his real-life son, Baylen, before crashing with the kid in his twin bed for keeping watch through the night. Dad as MVP has been quite the successful play for Kelloggs Co. as well. Its campaign for Frosted Flakes features the line, “Share what you love with who you love,” and sports images of dads playing sports with their kids and brand mascot Tony the Tiger.

In their messaging, brands must be sensitive to the roles—and self-image—of both moms and dads. In its study, Edelman found that each parent perceives he or she does more of the grocery shopping, with 70 percent of dads maintaining they commandeer the Trader Joe’s cart while only 36 percent of moms agree. Thus, marketers are faced with the task of balancing messaging to both moms and dads—which can be a tough trick to pull off. “There is a much more egalitarian awareness, which is great,” says Hayes. “But you have to be about something. You just can’t be everything to everybody. No brand can do that effectively.”

Eric Weisberg, executive creative director at JWT New York, says it is all about striking a balance. “Even 10 years ago, we were mainly talking to moms,” he says. “Now there has been a shift. Mom remains core to the strategies, but we’re talking to dads to be sure we are good with them too.”

Jacobson agrees. “You have to say, OK, you know what? This is a little bit of a shift,” he says. “Our target used to be mom. Now, maybe it’s dad. So let’s try to come up with stuff that is going to jibe with his reality.”

And much of that reality still has dad strolling down Main Street, getting unwanted advice at every turn from well-meaning but misguided passersby. This Father’s Day, there’s little doubt that what the modern dad wants rather than that “No. 1 Dad” mug or burnt toast is a little respect.