Are Dads The 'New Black'?

Just as navy (then pink, then who knows what) became “the new black” of the fashion world, dads are becoming the hot new thing in marketing to parents. Survey after survey indicates that the man of the house is taking on more responsibility for parenting and household chores.  Last week, I participated in a roundtable on marketing to parents hosted by PRWeek, the public relations industry publication – and much of the conversation turned to reaching out to dads.

The only problem?

All that research reporting the evolution of dad’s role has been done with … dads. We suspected that if we asked moms some of the same questions about their partners’ role, the answers might be different.

So we did. And they were. 

Full disclosure: This was a relatively small, preliminary survey, with just over 200 responses from around the U.S. Nevertheless, the findings gave us pause, at least for the moment. Asked who in their household had prime responsibility for household purchasing decisions, 90% of those surveyed said that mom did.



Some other key findings:

  • The household purchasing categories for which dads are entirely responsible are what might be considered traditionally “male”: automobiles (including choice, maintenance and repairs), 67%; technology (including TV, computers and phones); 44% and insurance, 40%. Once you talk about categories such as food and household cleaning supplies, the numbers drop dramatically – down to single digits.
  • Change the question from entirely to primarily responsible, and the answers shift by only a few percentage points. 
  • Interestingly, in both cases, dads’ responsibility – entirely or primarily – for children’s purchases such as clothes or toys was at the bottom of all the categories, ranging from 1-5%.
  • When it came to responsibility for activities, rather than purchases, the trend was similar. Home repairs were, by far, the activity for which most dads had more responsibility than moms, at 83%, with bill paying the next category, at 33%.
  • Bottom of the list of categories for which dads had more responsibility than moms in the household? Child care, at the low, low rate of ... 1.5%.  
  • While other surveys have clearly said that dads are taking on more responsibility for food shopping and cooking, according to our research they were primarily responsible for those areas less than 7% of the time.
  • Importantly, however, while not primarily responsible, dads are equally responsible to moms for some key activities: according to moms, 30% of dads were equally responsible for childcare, 22% for food shopping and 20% for cooking.
  • In contrast, in other studies I have seen, 40-50% of dads themselves have said they are equally or primarily responsible for childcare, food shopping and cooking.

So, the bad news, based on this preliminary study, is that dads largely remain primarily responsible for what they have always been responsible for – “guy stuff” – and are particularly uninvolved when it comes to shopping for the kids. The good news is that about 20% of dads are taking on equal responsibility for household activities such as food shopping and cooking.

Truth is, we have little doubt that dads are more involved with childcare and household chores now than a generation ago. We even introduced a Digital Dads program several years back, and activate it when we feel it makes sense for a particular type of client.

The question remains, to what degree are dads involved.

Before companies start shifting too many of their marketing dollars, more research  is needed to clarify how the purchasing decisions are being divided, what products dads are entirely, primarily or equally responsible for and whether companies who target parents should be spending their money on mom, dad or both.

10 comments about "Are Dads The 'New Black'?".
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  1. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, June 26, 2013 at 1:28 p.m.

    I have been saying this for as long as the Dads have been screaming how much more important they are in the household... just not really the case in any % that really matters, IMHO. And ask those Dads the same question with their wives sitting next to them, instead of them bolstering themselves privately, and even the answers coming out of their mouths will change for the most part.

  2. Stephanie Azzarone from CHILD'S PLAY COMMUNICATIONS, June 26, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.

    Thank you, Ted -- nice to hear I'm not alone in this!

  3. Amy Henry from C&R Research, June 26, 2013 at 1:42 p.m.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post! We agree - as with any "news" related to families and youth, it's important to proceed with caution and separate fact from spin! We concur that dads are still secondary to moms in terms of their involvement in most tasks, but we recently revised our own YouthBeat ( parent question related to this topic slightly and found dads share much more involvement than we might think...When we asked if dads were "very involved, somewhat involved, or not at all involved" in a number of tasks related to childcare and household management, we found (among both moms and dads, as our survey of over 6000 nationally representative moms and dads includes both) that dads are much more involved in these tasks than we might think. Parenting is not a zero sum game, so asking about "ownership" of a task can obscure the real story. Instead, we might want to give dads credit for increasing their involvement, even if it continues to lag behind mom's.

  4. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, June 26, 2013 at 1:42 p.m.

    I got your back, big-time, Stephanie. And... so nice to FINALLY have a MediaPost writer reply to a comment. We need to connect elsewhere :-)

  5. Stephanie Azzarone from CHILD'S PLAY COMMUNICATIONS, June 26, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.

    Thanks, Amy. We certainly HOPE that dads are more involved -- if they are, all credit to them from this mom and others. The end goal for all of us in marketing is to really understand what, specifically, dads are involved in, to what extent, and how that impacts family purchasing decisions.

  6. Amy Henry from C&R Research, June 26, 2013 at 2:22 p.m.

    Agreed, Stephanie! And we've found that having dads "in the mix" matters - even if they're not the sole decision-maker. A topic that begs for continued examination :)

  7. Nick D from ___, June 26, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.

    Meh. Ask parents of millenials how much say they (the kids) have in specific decisions, and they'll say it's minimal too. While your underlying point (don't freak out, the household dynamic hasn't shifted seismically) is very worthwhile, advertisers still have to influence participants in key decisions - whether they're the final decision maker or not.

  8. Stephanie Azzarone from CHILD'S PLAY COMMUNICATIONS, June 26, 2013 at 6:12 p.m.

    Legitimate comment re influence, Nick. Unfortunately, unless a budget is significant, marketers may have to choose to limit their spending to the major decision maker, rather than just the influencer, and it's good to know which is which.

  9. Alan Kercinik from Edelman, June 27, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.

    I read this as a fundamentally flawed study, because both parties have different perceptions of what 'primary' responsibility is. So if you ask only Moms, you can't see where the gaps between gender perception is.

    I agree with your final paragraph. More research is needed about influence and involvement among families. Because the overwhelming majority of the data is about moms.

    But to jump on a 200-person survey as some sort of proof point that marketers shouldn't take a more progressive and inclusionary view of Dads place in the family and purchasing cycle is neither smart or advised, IMO.

  10. Stephanie Azzarone from CHILD'S PLAY COMMUNICATIONS, June 27, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.

    Thanks for your comment, Alan. Just to be clear: This post states up front that it is based on a “small, preliminary survey” and that, as you point out, we ourselves feel that more extensive research needs to be done. If you take a closer look at the last few graphs, you’ll understand that we are not in any way suggesting that marketers ignore dads (and in fact we have long had a program in place to help them reach dads). To the contrary: We are stressing the importance of understanding dads’ real role and not jumping on the bandwagon for the wrong reasons.

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