Time to jump off the ‘dad is a buffoon’ train

Exact Media's David Grisim says the 1950s called and wants its ads back.

shutterstock_137446907By David Grisim

Let’s be honest. Men can be bumbling, fumbling, clueless buffoons. After all, it’s common knowledge any household chores not involving power tools, such as cleaning up after ourselves, taking out the trash and changing diapers, puts us in a tizzy. Don’t even start on Master’s-level tasks like shopping, preparing a nutritious meal, supervising kids and returning the toilet seat to the universally preferred horizontal position. It makes you wonder why women don’t just give up on men completely. Can you just imagine how intolerably chaotic the households of male same-sex couples are?

If the oft-quoted stat is correct that women control 80% of household spending, it shouldn’t be surprising that advertisers have made great sport of depicting male stereotypes for comedic effect since the first 30-second spot. There’s just so darn much material to work with. And there will probably always be women for whom the stupid male trope resonates.

But let’s once and for all recognize that advertising depicting men as helpless oafs and women as their saviours is demeaning to both genders, especially to women.

Wait… what?

Sure, I suppose new age, “sensitive” men who actually share in household responsibilities might be offended. But, don’t we celebrate female empowerment by depicting women as more intelligent, resourceful and even heroic in solving household problems than their Neanderthal husbands?

Excuse me, but 1950 called and they want their advertising back.

Fortunately, female empowerment is no longer centred solely on the home. Isn’t it time we expand the two-dimensional roles of both men and women in advertising? And why not the rest of the family while we’re at it.

Now, I want to differentiate the American Greetings’ “World’s Toughest Job” viral campaign from antediluvian examples like beer and teen body spray commercials. The American Greetings spot was criticized by some for the job description that hints at traditional mom roles, such as negotiating with “associates,” staying up when they’re sick and having to manage a greater workload during holidays. I also heard (limited but vocal) criticism when I oversaw the P&G “Thank You, Mom” Olympics campaign for neglecting to also call out the positive aspects of great dads. Fair enough. But, can’t most of us relate in some way to the sacrifices our moms made for us? Must it be seen as a smear against dads (or teachers, siblings, coaches or second cousins) when we celebrate moms?

Bud Light, a brand hardly known for progressive male characterizations, followed the American Greetings video with its “Director of Whatever” satire celebrating male slackers. And this has, justifiably, come under fire for depicting the worst male stereotypes. These stunts portraying negative male generalizations are the most egregious, in my opinion. They’re lazy attempts to get people talking about your brand, subscribing to the principle that all press is good press. (I wanted to believe that was the intent of Cadillac’s obnoxious “Poolside” spot, but they were actually serious.)

Now, I get that in advertising we need to use shorthand. There’s always more we’d like to communicate than space, time or attention allows. As such, we simplify situations, we use humour and we have to accept that highly engaging and memorable advertising will always be somewhat polarizing.

But why not take risks in favour of positive, non-traditional gender roles and family situations? Or better yet, make us think, by challenging existing attitudes (think Dove “Sketches,”  Coke “It’s Beautiful” and Pantene “Labels Against Women”). When we pander to a small subset of household shoppers by portraying befuddled and bewildered male partners and dads, it might seem “safe.” But when we do it, we miss the opportunity to build long-term equity as a relevant, contemporary and aspirational brand. There’s nothing bewildering about that.

David Grisim is global CMO and Canadian managing director at Exact Media. Previously, he was a marketing leader at Procter & Gamble, where he spent 17 years challenging the status quo.

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