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by a then-relatively unknown John Hughes — but the zany notion of a man staying home while his wife worked feels outdated 30 years later.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. Jezebel.com 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.