I am a big honking sap of a dad. In the years since my kids have arrived, the list of events that have prompted a cascade of briny moisture down my cheeks includes (but is not limited to) first
breaths, first smiles, first steps, first words, first semi-solid bowel movements and first “accidental”-wiffle-bat-
Yet every year when Father’s Day rolls around, I find myself embarrassed by the pap that brand marketers believe will intensify their relationship with similarly sentimental dads. I can’t remember who pioneered this noxious trend, but the initial thinking hasn’t evolved: Dads are great! They are nice to their children! With whom they participate in activities like sports-doing and affectionate hair-tousling!
It’s too easy. For whatever reason, marketers have decided that being present in some minimal way is an act of selfless heroism. Thus dad is a hero and mom is a hero and grandparents are grandheroes and so on. Everyone gets a trophy. Yay!
The real disappointment here is that the subgenre of dad-deifying videos can and should be a whole lot of fun. How about Dad as an actual superhero, with great and forbidding furniture-assembly and meat-charring superpowers? How about staging a Dad Olympics, in which two neighborhood dads go tete-a-tete to establish paternal preeminence as their children look on with bemusement? I thought of those two wholly original, groundbreaking, needle-moving ideas in roughly eight seconds. Please mail me money care of MediaPost.
So who’s going to win the 2016 Father’s Day Awwwwwww!-Off? I present to you the three “best” candidates.
1. Gillette, “This Father’s Day, Go Ask Dad”: You gotta hand it to Gillette’s brand minions: They’re not too proud to brazenly appropriate ideas from the competition, whether for a service or for a marketing approach. In “Go Ask Dad,” they go the huggy-heart route pioneered by Procter & Gamble in its “thanks, Mom, for driving me places and laundering my socks” series of videos. Alas, as the 736th marketer to settle on that particular approach, Gillette doesn’t register.
“Go Ask Dad” begins with the most ominousnessest of statistics: That “94% of teenagers ask the Internet for advice before their dads.” Heavens! Haven’t they been made aware that board-certified Cool Dads like me boast an abundance of knowledge about burger toppings and bands from 1987? Nice work, American Federation of Teachers.
First we hear from a gaggle of dads, who bemoan the challenges associated with modern-day dad-dom. Then we cut over to a kitchen set, where their kids are asked to “research” information about tying ties and shaving (but of course) on the Internet. Finally, their dads enter, flush with answers and more (according to one dad, asking a girl out requires eye contact, a “presence” and a willingness to dance like a Burning Man refugee).
At its denouement, “Go Ask Dad” poses a question: “So, which is better?” In an upset on par with Douglas-over-Tyson, dad wins! Dad wins! I didn’t see it coming, either.
Lesson conveyed: Dads are smarter than Internets. Opportunity missed: Having the kids ask their dads and the Internet for directions to Aunt Betty’s house, and letting nature run its ugly course.
2. Hershey’s Kisses, “A Hershey’s Kisses Family: The Lowell-Etris - Celebrating Dad”: Super-unpredictably, a few daddy/daughter photos send daddy down Reminiscence Road, which intersects with Memory Boulevard in the town of New Nostalgia, Vermont. But wait – mom and daughter are hanging around, exchanging knowing looks. Either dad is about to receive a “sweet surprise of his own,” per the YouTube blurb, or Ashton Kutcher and his band of “Punk’d” merrymakers have identified the rubiest of rubes.
Turns out that dad has long left Hershey’s Kisses around the house for his daughter as tokens of his affection. The idea behind it, he says, “was for her to come home and feel loved and accepted.” The daughter, in turn, notes how the two of them “speak through chocolate.” Me, I speak with my kids through speaking. But hey, whatever floats your interpersonal-communication boat.
Thus we arrive at the big reveal, which is that dad’s drawer, the one which houses the Hershey’s Kisses, is empty. O cursed fate! In a grand, sweeping gesture, mom and daughter refill the drawer. And somehow, dad is both surprised and touched. He’s all, “Holy moly! What are the odds that two people who live under the same roof that I do could coordinate a stealth act of such daring nature?” I did get a kick out of imagining his response if, like, a son stationed in the Middle East showed up on his doorstep unannounced with a bag of Fritos.
Lesson conveyed: Many dads have perhaps a lower threshold for surprise than my own. Opportunity missed: To entertain, to enlighten, to touch, to inspire (four-way tie).
3. Dove Men+Care, “Caring Makes My Dad, My Hero”: Our final and most dazzlingly punctuated entry covers the same ground that Dove Men + Care did last time around, when it theorized that dads who are happy when they learn that they’re going to be dads should be beatified and showered with coupons for free car washes. Indeed, Dove Men+Care clips are the Rosetta Stone of lowering-the-involvement-bar dad videos. This time, the brand trots out a bunch of old reliables – footage of dads skateboarding and running and biking with their kids – and presents them as incontrovertible evidence that dads ROCK.
Never mind that half the footage (a clip of dad “rescuing” his kid from the mild peril of an approaching wave, another of dad dancing with a non-kid at a wedding) doesn’t make sense in this particular context. Dove cares! Dove believes in everyday heroism and real beauty and maybe even fumigating your ‘pits.
With every successive Dove brand video, I find myself detesting the brand more and more. But hey, the videos get circulated on Facebook, so they’ve gotta be impactful, right?
Lesson conveyed: “When you care, you’ll always be a hero to someone.” Have I mentioned that I care enough about this column to watch the videos I review and sometimes even spell-check what I write before I publish it? Time to clear some space in the ol’ medal cabinet. Opportunity missed: What products are in the Dove Men+Care line, anyway? Are there refreshingly scented balms and ointments? I may or may not be in the market for the former.
In conclusion, the only way I could dislike these three wisps of treacle masquerading as emotionally resonant content more would be if they armed my kids with Red Bull and a set of multi-octave kazoos. Happy Father’s Day, everyone!