One such ad is AT&T’s "Piece of Cake" commercial, part of the company’s recent Digital Life campaign. In the ad, a wife leaves the house in the hands of her largely inept spouse to go on an extended business trip. As she says goodbye to him and their three children, she asks doubtfully if everything will be okay at home, to which her husband naively replies “Yeah, this is a piece of cake; I got this.”
The rest of the 60-second spot shows the dad making blunder after blunder, for instance, forgetting how to get to the kids’ school, failing to put down the garage door, disregarding the dog walker, letting the kids stay up too late, and forgetting to turn-on the home security system. Fortunately, mom is able to amend each mistake from afar, using AT&Ts remote monitoring system and digital home controls.
Some are probably thinking “So what? It’s just one ad.” After all, other ads and mass media on whole routinely expose the inadequacies of all sorts of people, not just dads. Plus, you might be postulating, “I bet you’re a dad,” in which event this could simply be a case of sour grapes.
In the spirit of full-disclosure, I am a dad—the father of two wonderful children. At least, I think they’re wonderful . . . it’s hard for me to know because, after all, I’m a dad (heavy sarcasm intended). But seriously, dad-bashing ads are quite common. For example, here are several other TV commercials that seem to intentionally disparage dads:
- Huggies Dad Test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7kX8ZKylD4
- Doritos Princesses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPtUJHpI3W0
- State Farm Road Trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBRmlVEvQO4
- Libman Mop Power-washing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2I02n-vGto
- Fidelity My Plan Ping Pong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJTOZ06BlqU
This tendency to portray dads as dumb is a trend that many have recognized, in advertising as well as in mass media in general. It’s hard to think of other people groups who are as routinely ridiculed.
Still, some may be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Many TV commercials and shows aim to be funny. It’s hard to have humor if everyone in an ad or sitcom is smart and sensible. While there’s some truth to this argument, depictions start to become damaging when the same group of people is always made to play the fool. Such frequency and consistency of negative portrayals rises to the realm of stereotyping.
Most of us recognize the great harm that stereotypes have had on specific people groups over centuries, as well as on our society as a whole. It’s not to say that the bias dads may encounter equates to other historic prejudices; however, there is legitimate reason to be concerned about what the future might hold if the next generation grows up believing that dads are inherently incompetent.
The challenge is to determine the level at which to place responsibility. Does the preceding discussion mean that any ad that portrays a dad as less than a genius is guilty of propagating the stereotype? Normally speaking, no—i.e., it’s reasonable to show that dads, like everyone else, make mistakes. However, in light of the considerable derision that fathers have faced in the media over recent years, it seems prudent to extend to them a period of reprieve in order for the pendulum to swing the other way and to allow them to regain some of the respect they deserve. Such restoration is not just important for them but for the health of our entire society.
Unfortunately dad-bashing ads seem to represent effective marketing. They apparently have worked at some level for those companies that have used them; otherwise it’s unlikely that this promotional tactic would be so common. The ads probably have created stakeholder value. However, in light of the negative social outcomes outlined above, due to the aggregation of such stereotyping, ads that intentionally make fun of fathers should be seen at least for a season as “Single-Minded Marketing.”