Hey! Men Buy Fabric Softener, Too

In the 1983 film “Mr. Mom,” Michael Keaton plays a guy who, after losing his job, must stay home and take care of the kids. Having apparently never done any work around the house whatsoever, he proceeds to wrestle a runaway vacuum cleaner, cook his son a grilled-cheese sandwich with an iron, and treat a diaper change as though he’s handling plutonium. The movie still provides some decent laughs — it was written by a then-relatively unknown John Hughes — but the zany notion of a man staying home while his wife worked feels outdated 30 years later.

The number of American men who are full-time stay-at-home dads has more than doubled in the past 10 years; in other words, the trend isn’t solely the result of the recession. And, according to the Census Bureau, more than 600,000 men are currently the primary caretaker of children in their households. I have several male friends who stay home with the kids, and while their tweets and Facebook posts about their own “Mr. Mom” experiences contain a large number of sports and movie references — one friend compared his son’s playground to Mad Max’s Thunderdome — the guys are still doing everything their female counterparts are. (Well, maybe not breastfeeding.) And that, no doubt, includes much of the household’s shopping.

But for the most part, advertisers ignore them. We still see commercials depicting a woman patiently cooking and cleaning for her buffoonish husband, who’s essentially just another toddler (albeit a gigantic one) messing up the house. I wouldn’t claim to know a product’s target consumer better than the makers of the product, but that kind of ad doesn’t exactly speak to a guy — stay-at-home dad or not — heading to the store with the family’s grocery list in hand.

As the roles men and women play in everyday life become more fluid, the lines determining which products are meant for which gender begin to blur. Not surprisingly, shoehorning gender-neutral products into gender-specific marketing campaigns hasn’t gone exceedingly well of late. Last year, when Dr Pepper proclaimed that its new low-calorie soda was “not for women,” many women (and some men) expressed outrage. And Bic For Her pens have recently garnered less than favorable reactions from women wondering why, exactly, they need special pens. related one woman’s reaction: “Oh thank the heavens above! My feeble, female hands were just a-strugglin' with those bulky man pens.”

Perhaps companies should take the lead from Louisville Slugger. Recognizing that female softball players were its fastest-growing segment, it launched a “Beautifully Powerful” campaign aimed at women and girls that turned out to be extremely successful. So whether it’s separate marketing campaigns for men and women that don’t insult either, or one broad campaign that appeals to both genders, brands may need to tweak their strategy — or risk alienating half of their consumers.

3 comments about "Hey! Men Buy Fabric Softener, Too ".
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  1. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media, August 30, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.

    Good article and very true. We live in a world that has turned into an "us vs them" mentality from politics to religion to everything in-between. Constraints such as political correctness and taking things personally now permeate how we interact. Prior to all of this we lived in a world where the same gender stereotypes existed, but where one could comment, joke, or ask a question without being hung on a cross. Today, tell consumers that you've made a sponge that men will like cleaning a sink with and you are labelled misogynistic, anti-feminist, male chauvinist, misanthrope, and sexist. There is a real art to finding the words that one can use in advertizing today as it seems no matter what you say, you've offended someone. Perhaps it's easier to hang onto old values and stereotypes than dare look at the changes in society and culture and try to target a product with reality in mind. We are an uneducated bunch as consumers and unfortunate it's easier to give the copy to the group and edit out anything that can be perceived as a slight than be creative, target towards a potential audience, and be realistic about perceptions that are often engraved in the mind of the public, but absolutely incorrect. Did you know that spousal violence of women against men is nearly equally to male spousal violence against women? No I bet you didn't but it's stated clearly in both the US government statistics of spousal violence and most every scientific study on the the subject. Just don't try to make an ad that says it or every male hate group in the world will be boycotting you and future generations of your offspring. Yes men use fabric softener too. Just don't let anyone know or else. Not a great way to have to live, but unfortunate in today's world. At least my clothes are soft.

  2. Barbara Lippert from, August 30, 2012 at 4:20 p.m.

    amen! great piece! Was I the only one who reacted this way to the P&G thanking Moms campaign during the Olympics? It was beautiful and all, but a hell of a lot of dads got up in the middle of the night to drive, too!

  3. TheMaids StLouis from The Maids St.Louis, September 14, 2012 at 7:56 p.m.

    I'm always surprised by these ads that target one specific gender. They are just not needed anymore, at least for drinks and writing implements! Whether it is house cleaning products or toolboxes it doesn't make sense to exclude an entire gender.

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