Whether they are selling beds, information services, household products or hamburgers, companies as diverse as Thomasville Furniture Industries, Ameritech, Procter & Gamble Co., McDonald's Corp. and others are depicting dads in nurturing roles, cuddling infants or worrying about baby's health.
It's as if fathers have been unshackled from the chains of emotional reserve and set free to change diapers, take temperatures and otherwise care for their offspring in advertising, both print and TV.
Such public displays of nurturing by men would have been rare just a few years ago. But changes in the American family structure have forced many fathers to become more involved with the rearing of small children.
According to U.S. Census Bureau, 43.9% of families were dual-income as of March 1993, a figure that's been growing for years.
The shift in advertising portrayals can be traced to popular culture as well. The hit movie "Mrs. Doubtfire" features a divorced father so desperate to be with his children that he dresses in drag to become their housekeeper. And the men's movement, made popular by books such as Robert Bly's best-selling tome "Iron John," have helped crush old taboos and stereotypes.
"Men are not just responsible for buying cars, fridges and lawnmowers anymore. We're branching out into other areas of consumer living," says Marv Beneteau, VP-advertising for Simmons Co., the marketer of Beautyrest mattresses.
Atlanta ad agency Pollack, Levitt, Chaiet created two versions of a print ad for Beautyrest, headlined "Only one thing has ever cradled you as perfectly as a Beautyrest can." One ad shows a man cuddling a newborn against his bare breast, and the other shows a woman doing the same. Recall tests found the male version scored slightly higher in visual impact.
"I don't think people are used to seeing a male in that pose," Mr. Beneteau says.
They also might not be used to seeing a man bouncing a baby on his knee in bed, as featured in a print ad for Thomasville furniture. Or a TV spot for Ameritech that shows a harried father working on his computer with one hand while cradling a baby in the other.
P&G portrays men with babies and toddlers in ads for Zest and Ivory soaps; Johnson & Johnson shows a father washing baby's hair and cuddling him after bathtime. A McDonald's TV spot features a father feeding his baby, and Fruit of the Loom shows a man toilet training his toddler son.
Are such portrayals indicative of a new trend in society, where men partake wholly and equally in the nurturing of babies, or does it simply mirror the lives of marketing executives and their target audiences?
The trend appears to be more a mirror of ad executives' lives and that of their target markets rather than a universal shift in fathering. All of the executives interviewed for this story were men, and many were new fathers.
Mr. Beneteau, father of three children ages 5, 3 and 1, says the idea for the Beautyrest ad came from a recognition that he and many of his friends were intensely involved in the rearing of their kids.
Like Mr. Beneteau, Mickey Brazeal is an ad executive and father as well. Between making lunches and dropping his kids off at school, Mr. Brazeal created a TV spot for Osco Drugs that features a father worrying about his infant daughter's rash.
"There was a time when it was obvious that the mother would deal with [diaper rash]," says Mr. Brazeal, executive creative director at Lois/USA, Chicago. "But if you think about the way the world is today, more dads are involved. And maybe they're a little needier because when we were growing up, we didn't realize diaper rash was something we were going to have to deal with."
Glaxo, the marketer of Ventolin inhalers and Zantac ulcer treatment, has a different mission with its print ads, one of which shows a Glaxo researcher hugging his baby. "Our mission was to put a human face on the pharmaceutical company," says Michael Winslow, VP and co-executive creative director at Rockett, Burkhead, Lewis & Winslow, Raleigh, N.C.
"I would guess more fathers in this generation think of themselves as part of the child-rearing process, not just provider," he says, proving father may know best, but he's getting to know baby even better.M
Recall tests for Beautyrest found consumers remembered an ad that showed a father cradling baby more than one that pictured a mother.
Zantac marketer Glaxo wanted to give its company a human face, so it ran an ad featuring one of its researchers hugging his infant daughter.
Fruit of the Loom and its agency, Leo Burnett USA, show a father actively involved in the rearing-and toilet training-of his toddler son.A father that not only changes diapers but worries about baby's rash? Look for it in a TV spot created by Lois/USA for Osco Drugs.