magazines: Make Room for Daddy

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Fathers become a potentially lucrative demographic.

Move over mamas - dads are stepping up to the changing table. And new media outlets are helping them figure out what to do once they get there.

Internet sites dedicated to fathering - such as 4dad.com and babycenter.com's "Dad Zone" - abound. New television shows like NBC's sitcom Daddio, about a stay-at-home Mr. Mom, are helping to cool up the dad image. And a variety of products just for dads are making their way onto department store shelves; a recent trip to the handbag section of Macy's uncovered at least one - a Dads Gear backpack, black and hefty, complete with durable baby bottle pockets and removable changing pad. The company's slogan: "Fatherhood is an extreme sport...gear up!"

What gives? Thirty years ago, a man might have felt that strapping a baby to his chest would threaten his masculinity. Today, a man cooing at his newborn is not only accepted, but expected. Among the 38 million men with kids under the age of 18, there is a growing yet undetermined number of fathers who have chosen to take a more hands-on role in child-rearing. Shifting social trends and more targeted media outlets have made it easier for men to get in touch with their inner dad, and for advertisers to get in touch with this lucrative segment. Traditionally, men have been marketed to solely by age and income. But now dads - a group that buys more computer software, vehicles, and entertainment equipment than men overall - are fast becoming a marketable demographic in their own right.

The latest effort at targeting this kinder, gentler dad population is dads magazine, "The Lifestyle Magazine for Today's Father." The title, by independent publisher Dads Media, will launch this month with a circulation of 200,000. "Fathers want to be better dads," says Walter Rosenthal, marketing director for dads and proud papa of a 7-week-old boy. "They are beginning to understand that they are an integral part of their kid's upbringing."

In fact, married fathers reported spending four hours a day with their children in 1998, compared with just 2.7 hours in 1965, according to research by Dr. Suzanne Bianchi, a demographer and sociologist at the University of Maryland. And 69 percent of fathers said they share equally with their wives the responsibilities of playing with their child; 60 percent share the role of disciplinarian; and 54 share the role of caregiver, according to a recent survey by Yankelovich Partners.

Targeting primarily upscale, 35-to- 39-year-old married fathers, dads' editorial will focus not only on child rearing, but on marital issues, finance and investments, automobiles, and technology. Cal Ripkin, third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and father of two, will grace the debut cover. "Men are real fix-it types, but they aren't always comfortable asking for advice," says Rosenthal. "This magazine is a way to help first-time fathers get through some big changes and show them the way."

Still, media buyers are skeptical that "dads" can sell as a separate demographic from "men" or "parents." Roberta Garfinkle, director of print media for McCann-Erickson, says gender makes little difference when a company markets a commodity product such as diapers. And then there's the macho factor. "Is it really going to be the manly thing to be standing on the subway reading about how to diaper your baby?" asks Garfinkle. "I see just as many dads pushing strollers as I do moms these days, but just because they are doing it doesn't mean they want to read a magazine about it."

She may be right. Men with children make up 18 percent of Parenting's readership, 15 percent of Parents', 14 percent of Family Fun's, and 12 percent of Child's. Even Offspring, launched in March by Hearst and touted as a dual-audience parenting magazine, expects to reach just 20 percent of the male audience. "With Offspring, we realized that dads are taking on a more hands-on role, so we wanted to create an intelligent parenting magazine for both parents," says Michael Clinton, senior vice president of Hearst Magazines. "But at the end of the day we made the observation that mom is still the main player in raising the child." He says that Hearst has no plans for an entry into the fathers-only realm.

But dads publisher Sean Kean says the reason men don't read other parenting magazines is that those titles don't speak to a father's needs.

In focus groups conducted for the start-up, fathers said they felt the current parenting magazines - with their pastel-colored copy and female-oriented subject matter - belong to their wives. "There is nothing wrong with Parenting referring to their reader as `she,' because she is a she," says Kean. "But dads is speaking directly to men."

In terms of advertiser reach, Kean says dads is competing not with other parenting titles, but with other men's titles. "We are building ourselves as a lifestyle magazine for fathers, but we are selling ourselves as a men's magazine for dads," says Kean. And since fathers have spending habits that differ from that of all men, dads provides a niche target for advertisers. Dads are, for example, 75 percent more likely to own a minivan, 54 percent more likely to own a camcorder, and 25 percent more likely to do their banking over the Internet than the average man, according to Mediamark Research Inc. They also are more likely to own computers and educational software, use an agent to buy property, and take out a loan for a family vacation. (At press time, dads didn't provide American Demographics with an advertiser list, saying the list was incomplete. However, Kean insists advertiser "reception has been phenomenal.")

Reader reception may be another story. The concept for a fathers' magazine was tried once before, in 1994, and shut down three years later. "Men don't want an Esquire for dads," says Shaun Budka, former publisher of Modern Dad. "They don't want something bulky and slick. Dads want something that's comfortable, easy to read, short, and to the point."

That's why Budka will re-launch Modern Dad this month as a 3.5 million circulation, 16-page newsletter which will be distributed free via hospitals. Budka is so convinced that the market is primed that he is also launching two even more narrowly focused newsletters. The first, called First Time Dad (circulation 2.7 million), will be polybagged with American Baby Basket and distributed by childbirth educators beginning this month. The second, Single Dad, is currently under development and is expected to launch in 2001 with a circulation of 1 million.

One thing Budka says he learned from the demise of Modern Dad is how many single dads are itching to be a bigger part of their kids' lives. Single fathers are one of the fastest-growing "dad" segments. From 1995 to 1998, the number of single fathers grew 25 percent, to 2.1 million, while the number of single mothers remained constant at 9.8 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Men comprised one in six of the nation's 11.9 million single parents in 1998, up from one in seven in 1995 and one in ten in 1980.

Still, the Web is where many dads go for information. Four out of ten fathers surveyed in a Yankelovich study say they turn to the Internet for fatherly advice, compared to three out of ten mothers.

Budka launched DadsWorld.com to coincide with his print ventures. Dads magazine is also launching a Web site, edads.com, along with the print version.

"We've done no promotion, but advertisers are randomly finding us on the Web and calling us for ad rates," says Budka. "Up until now, you couldn't effectively get to the dad market. The best you could do was buy Sports Illustrated - 36 percent of their readers are fathers. But dads are the ones making decisions about cars, sporting goods, and homes. We're banking on it, and so are magazines like dads. Offering advertisers a direct route to them is definitely going to pay off."

Cell phones, laptops, and PDAs have also begun to offer fathers mobility and, some anticipate, more bonding time with the kids. In 1999, about half the all "teleworkers" - people who work from home at least once a month during normal business hours - were men, according to Joanne H. Pratt Associates, a consulting firm specializing in the trend.

But just because fathers can now work from home, the car, or even the bleachers of a Little League game, doesn't mean they are spending "quality time" with the kids, says David Eggebeen, associate professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University. Eggebeen says that he was surprised by the idea of a magazine solely devoted to dads. "I'm not sure there really are that many out there who are seriously engaged fathers," he says. "The idea of how men should be with their kids has definitely changed. But behaviorally, we're lacking."

"Now, excuse me," he adds "but I have to run home to take care of my daughter...she's sick."

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