Back in 2013 I did an internship in market research at a toy company. At the time, advertisements featuring Dads were becoming a focal point and just recently starting to shift away from portraying Dad as uninterested, or incapable of, being a parent. Even though this internship was a short stint in my overall career, it has always made me pay particularly close attention to ads focused on the father when I see them now.
Doing a simple Google search of ads featuring Dads through the last twenty years or so will give you a bird’s eye view into this paradigm shift.
The 90's Dad: Idol & Authority Figure
In the 90’s, you see Dads as an authority figure or idol. McDonald’s, Burger King & other food companies (i.e. producers of sugary cereals) are the primary advertisers and in most cases, the phrase “Dad, Can I?" is seen quite often.
We even see Steph Curry make a cameo in a Burger King commercial with his Dad as he tries to learn how to be like him one day:
Another common theme is that it was nearly always featuring Dads and their sons. You rarely see an interaction between Dad and daughter in this time period.
The Early 2000's Dad: MIA & Emotion-less
It was actually pretty challenging to find any kind of “Dad” representation through the early 2000’s. The one I did find that attempted to bring forth the feel of a relationship between Dad and Son was a bit too forced. Ultimately, the Dad has clearly not been there for his son in the past but then buys him a new Mustang to make up for it. Didn’t leave the greatest taste in my mouth and felt obvious that brands didn’t really “get” Dads at that point.
The Late 2000's Dad: Proud to be a Dad
By 2008, we have started to see the shift and Dad ads are becoming more common and meaningful. The themes of “being proud to be a dad” and “taking time to be a dad” start to appear. This one from fatherhood.gov is just adorable as we see a Dad going through cheerleading routines with his little girl.
Another one from Tim Horton’s highlights how the stereotype for Dad’s to be reserved with their emotions can send the wrong message to your children - maybe attempting to correct the message from the early 2000's Dad.
This 2009 commercial featuring “diaper dads” was a disservice to any Dad who cares more about their child than their beer and sports.
The 2010-Present Dad: Overcoming Stereotypes
By 2011, we see more and more cute ads featuring Dads and their daughters, such as this Oreo one:
This is also when Huggies started to make an appearance but people were not impressed that the overall message was "Dads are imbeciles and we need to make products durable enough to outlast however long Mom will be gone”. Huggies actually went back and re-did their original commercial because of the wealth of negative feedback! See the revised commercial below:
2013 brought on princess daddy and Doritos. The only drawback to this ad is that it implies Dad would rather be out with the guys than playing with his daughter. We were getting closer to being on point but not quite there yet. Some Dads don't need (or shouldn't need) to be bribed with Doritos to play with their daughters.
The sports theme is very prevalent in 2013, though this VW ad with a son and his father playing catch is actually pretty hilarious.
Dove came on the scene a couple of years ago and has changed the landscape of Dad ads. They showed the emotions of being a father, how children regardless of age and gender, need their Dads. Try not to tear up over this one ‘Call For Dad’:
Dove continues to put out amazing ads getting to the heart of what it means to be a Dad with their #RealDadMoments campaign.
And, of course in the last year or so, we’ve begun to see that being a Dad is not always a biological duty, and that Dads and families can come in many forms.
Honey Maid: #Thisiswholesome
What is most evident from this progression is that Dads are starting to get the credit they deserve. Not all Dads are emotionless, disengaged, and incapable of being left alone with their child. They are a vital part of any child’s life and memories. So, Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads out there!
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