Message To Marketers: Connect With Dads Differently

You’ve seen the TV commercials: The bungling dad is left in charge of his kids. By the end, the house is trashed and dad, covered in spaghetti sauce, has had enough.

The “idiot dad” theme builds on the broader “idiot men” messaging that has plagued media and advertising for years. We constantly see men who are flummoxed by dishwashers, inept at cooking dinner, and interested only in sports and Doritos.

The backlash against these tropes also started years ago. In 2012, public outcry forced Huggies to overhaul its “Dad Test” ad campaign that implied its diapers were so absorbent they could withstand incompetent parenting. “To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: Dads — alone with their babies,” the ad’s narrator said.  

Yet a full seven years later, there are still few ads offering more positive portrayals of fatherhood. Brands can stand out simply by leaving the old messages behind and targeting dads based on what they really want: credit for all they do.



Dads spend significant time with their kids, and they’re there when their kids need them. The brands that speak to them best acknowledge their significant contributions.

To target the modern dad, brands should start by recognizing that dads would like to streamline their busy lives and have more time to delight in and engage with their children, just like any parent. Their approach should be, “Hey dads, you’re busy, so here’s a way we can make your life easier.”  

This approach should take both media planning and creative into consideration. From a creative point of view, ads should show images of dads using baby products, doing activities with their kids, or cooking tasty dinners.   Brands can then use signal planning to target busy dads with services like grocery delivery services, or products like kid-friendly snack foods and nontoxic cleaning products.

Ultimately, I think it’s about meeting dads where they are and helping them spend quality time with their kids. For example, I recently took my 13-year-old son to the store to pick out a baseball glove, despite my initial inclination to order online. I wanted him to be able to try the gloves on, and the trip to the store turned into a special father-son experience.

Ads should highlight how those moments really matter. Witness Expedia’s “Zoo” commercial, in which a father takes his daughter on an out-of-town trip. “Technology connecting you to what matters,” the narrator concludes as the little girl in a tiger costume stares through the glass at a real tiger, her dad by her side.

The ad reminds me of my excursion with my son to buy the baseball glove, just as it surely connects with other dads who value special moments with their kids. This Father’s Day and throughout the year, marketers can make a statement by putting competent and caring fathers front and center.

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