The Consumer Is Not a Moron, He Is Your Child's Father

Increasingly Influential Dads Are in Marketers' Crosshairs

By Published on .

Moms have been the operative target for packaged goods and many other brands for eons. But growing research suggests that while dads are far from being the key decision makers or caretakers at home, their role is growing.

So marketers in many categories risk overlooking a growing part of their consumer base by excluding men. And some, such as Unilever's Ragu, have gotten men's shorts in a bunch with ads deemed condescending toward dads.

A Yahoo survey late last year of 2,400 U.S. men ages 18 to 64 found more than half now identify themselves as the primary grocery shoppers in their households, but only 22 % to 24% feel advertising in packaged-goods categories speaks to them.

The Ipsos LMX family study completed earlier this year among 2,800 moms and dads, while it didn't confirm dads rule the shopping cart just yet, did find they're the major players when it comes to entertainment. Ipsos found dads spend 50% more time than moms with their kids online, were 50% more likely than moms to take the kids to movies, and were also more likely to take the kids to theater, sporting events or concerts.

Amid such research comes some behavior change by marketers, too.

Kellogg Co. directed a campaign for Frosted Flakes featuring ESPN sports anchor and dad Rece Davis with ads on ESPN and an microsite. Such Procter & Gamble Co. brands as Gain, Febreze and Swiffer this year have become prominent display advertisers on sections of Yahoo, such as sports, heavily frequented by men.

But marketers are also finding dads have feelings too, such as when Ragu ran online ads last month with mom bloggers reflecting on "What Is Dinnertime Like When Dad Is in the Kitchen ?" and directed them via Twitter to some dad bloggers.

One took particular offense, with prominent blogger C.C. Chapman concluding "Ragu Hates Dads." Some bloggers began comparing Ragu Dads to the infamous Motrin Moms over a 2008 Johnson & Johnson video deemed similarly condescending toward mothers who carry their babies in slings -- though at around 1,800 tweets of Mr. Chapman's original message, it didn't nearly rise to Motrinian proportions, nor did Unilever take the video down like J&J.

But the episode does point out how men still tend to be portrayed as domestic buffoons in ads, said another father blogger, Zach Rosenberg of "It's kind of time to let that idea of men in the kitchen being bungling fools die," he said.

In a follow-up Facebook update, Ragu did admit to having "sauce on our face," and said, "to any dad who felt excluded or offended, we are sorry as that certainly was never our intent."

But the reality is , while dads are more important household decision makers, they're still not as important as moms, said Gary Stibel, CEO of New England Consulting Group. By letting men self-report, the Yahoo survey overstated their role, he said. New England Consulting Group's own follow-up survey of 200 men and women indicated 70% of consumer-package-goods volume is still purchased by women, though he believes men's role is up "from the high 20s to the low 30s" in recent years.

And Mr. Stibel does believe such advertisers as Smuckers' Jif, by adding fathers to its longtime "choosy mothers" tagline, are making the right move in trying messages that resonate with moms and dads alike.

"Men are becoming less unimportant" in packaged-goods shopping, Mr. Stibel said, but in part that 's because the rising economic status of women leaves them with less time to do the shopping.

Or, as a New Age David Ogilvy might say, "The consumer is not a moron. He is your husband."

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