While advertisers including Coca-Cola, General Motors and Cheerios last year promoted diversity in their Super Bowl spots, this time around at least three major marketers will celebrate what it means to be a father.
Nissan, Dove and Toyota are tapping both famous and regular dads in a series of vignettes, online videos and social media campaigns leading up to their Super Bowl XLIX ads, all to show the caring side of men, the choices they make for their families and the everyday moments between children and their fathers.
The brands are looking to tap into the escalating conversation surrounding the role of fathers in the household and re-make the image of masculinity in media.
According to the Pew Research Center, fathers who live with their children are taking a more active role in caring for them and helping around the house as more women remain in the workforce. The number of stay-at-home fathers and single fathers has grown significantly in recent decades.
And many men are facing the same obstacles as working mothers, with 50% saying it's difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job and their families, nearly on par with the number of working women who voiced the same concern.
Dove said it found similar sentiment in a study it released earlier this week tied to its "Real Strength" campaign.
According to the study, conducted in partnership with masculinity researcher Dr. Michael Kimmel, 86% of men say the idea of masculinity has changed compared with their father's generation and 9 out of 10 men today see their caring side as a strength. Yet only 7% of men around the world said they can relate to the way the media depicts masculinity.
"The core of male masculinity today is rooted in his strength of character," Dr. Kimmel said in a statement. "Traits like integrity, authenticity and how he cares for himself and those around him are integral to how a man perceives his own masculinity today -- versus physical strength, power and affluence that prior generations may have prioritized."
To this end, Dove, along with automakers Nissan and Toyota, will look to create buzz by taking part in the conversation about the changing roles and image of men.
Certainly, dads appearing in Super Bowl commercials is not a new concept. In last year's game, Hyundai's ad depicted dads saving their children from disaster by making a quick move. But there have traditionally been more high-profile ads that feature the role of moms in their children's lives.
Procter & Gamble's "Thank You Mom" campaign, which launched at the London Olympics and carried through to the Sochi Olympics was highly successful.
"This heartwarming campaign focused on the role of moms making sacrifices and providing support for the athletes from a young age," said Raymond Taylor, professor of marketing, Villanova School of Business. "It is arguably the most successful big-event ad of all time having dominated two Olympics both in terms of likability and expert ratings such as Ace Metrix. So there is hard evidence that appeals to family can be highly effective in the context of a big event."
Reaching with both genders
Marketers' Super Bowl dad messages are likely to also resonate not only with males, which for these brands is the core demographic, but also women who are often the actual purchasers of products like shampoo and have substantial input into major purchase decisions, Mr. Taylor said.
But marketers do face some challenges when looking to re-make the image of dads.
Mr. Taylor said P&G's "Thank You Mom" campaign benefited from the demographic reality that across cultures, children are often raised with their mom in the household. "While this is very often the case with dads as well, demographic realities show that it is not as universal," he said.
For its #withdad campaign, Nissan partnered with YouTube creators who were tasked with creating short online films that celebrate the innovative and exciting ways that dads make life better for their families and how they strive to find a work-life balance. Nissan is holding back its actual spot, which will further this message, for the Super Bowl.
Unilever's Dove Men + Care released an extended 60-second version of its upcoming Super Bowl commercial, which pieces together fathers interacting with their children. It's using the film, which is similar to its earlier Father's Day video, to kick off its "Real Strength" campaign with the tagline, "Care makes a man stronger."
Toyota has also released a short film for its "One Bold Choice Leads to Another" campaign, featuring current and former professional football players and their children discussing their relationship with their fathers.
"What type of excuse can you give your father when he has prosthetic legs and he's getting up and he's walking around, he's cleaning gutters?" LaVar Arrington, a former linebacker for the New York Giants, said of his dad in the video.
Nissan, Dove and Toyota are also calling on viewers to share pictures of their dads on social media.
Criticism and praise
Marketers have been turning to the Super Bowl to make social statements over the last several years, but their messages have been met with mixed reactions.
Last year, Coca-Cola's "America is Beautiful," which showed people from different ethnic groups singing "America the Beautiful" in a variety of languages, received plenty of positive and negative social media reaction, while Cheerios' second installment of the "Gracie" series featuring a multi-racial family was widely praised.
Mr. Taylor said it's about balancing tradition and new perceptions. If a brand simply depicts dad playing Mr. Mom or crying along with their children, it probably won't resonate for many men because it departs too much from traditional images, he said.
"However, focusing on the masculinity associated with a father attending a child's sporting events or concerts or offering a guiding hand in an empathetic manner when the child needs support if done effectively can work," he said. "While making a socials statement can be risky, it does gain attention, and hitting the sweet spot with consumers can result in high payoff."