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Fathers are tired of seeing doofus dads in advertising

By: Alissa Fleck

With Father’s Day approaching, there’s currently an abundance of ads showing us what American fathers want most. But, a recent study by MDG Advertising revealed fathers don’t like the way they’re portrayed in marketing, and experts agreed something must be done about it. Fathers want an updated portrayal that better represents their engagement with fatherhood, a move that would have a positive ripple effect across industries and society as a whole, according to the experts.

“This is a time to let go of tired stereotypes and find more current and enlightening ways to depict and connect with men,” said Wanda Pogue, chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi New York. “Marketers can do so by focusing on the shared roles men are assuming in running the household.”

According to the study, 74 percent of millennial fathers feel advertisers and marketers are “out of touch with modern family dynamics,” while 38 percent believe brands do not portray their role as a parent accurately.

The messages sent to women and girls about their roles in society are changing and becoming more empowering, especially recently with movements like “Me Too” and “Time’s Up,” but representations of men have remained more stagnant and boys have been left adrift.

“There’s real change in the air—the role of the modern mother has been reframed, but men have been left behind,” said Ruth Bernstein, co-founder and CEO of Yard NYC. “There’s an opportunity to speak directly to dads, to recognize modern parents share values that feel more equal.”

There is one recurring trope in particular in advertising—that of father-daughter relationships having more emotional overtones than father-son relationships—that is telling about how we have long viewed fathers and the concept of manhood. “Maybe it says there’s freedom for men to have emotional relationships with daughters, but not with their sons,” offered Joanne McKinney, CEO of Burns Group.

Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said a “real father” knows how to express emotional support to his children.

It’s important that brands avoid becoming lazy with their portrayals of fathers, and instead remain socially relevant and realistic. Advertising is one avenue for doing so, explained Bernstein. “The Doofus Dad just isn’t good for anyone,” she said. Among survey respondents, 85 percent of fathers said they know more than advertisers give them credit.

“The Doofus Dad limits all sense of purpose,” said Bernstein. “Sons need to grow up recognizing they can have an expanded sense of purpose.”

And the shift in portrayal does not need to be revolutionary or ham-handed, even subtle changes are a positive start. Dave Surgan, group strategy director of content and partnerships at R/GA, suggested: “Make them active in their kids lives, just have them appear normal and involved.”

One campaign that hit the mark was the #DadJokesRule initiative by the Ad Council for fatherhood involvement, said Bernstein. The ads focus entirely on the unabashed, gleeful reactions of children to their fathers’ terrible jokes. Rather than making dads the butt of the joke, they’re in on the joke, and they’re celebrated, she said.

“Years of traditional ideals and cultural norms of fatherhood and masculinity are shifting,” said Anthony Del Gigante, director of brand at MDG. “The fact that only 7 percent of men say they relate to depictions of masculinity in media today highlights the disconnect between modern men and they ways they are portrayed.”

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