The way men are portrayed in advertising and on TV has changed a lot over the years.
On this year’s Super Bowl, it’s changing yet again.
Here at Kleber and Associates, we specialize in brands that are built around the home, so it makes sense that we pay attention to how homes and families are depicted in advertising, in pop culture, in the movies and on TV.
For example, back in the early days of television, families were almost always portrayed with a patriarchal father as the leader of the household. Dad characters respectable, hardworking, and solely responsible for making family decisions.
These guys didn’t lounge around the house in sweat pants; they wore suits and ties and often smoked a pipe—think Jim Anderson in “Father Knows Best,” or Ward Cleaver in “Leave It To Beaver.” Even Ricky Ricardo wore a suit and tie.
According to Mark Crispin Miller, author of “Dad Through the Decades: Thirty Years of TV Fathers,” the depiction of males on TV began changing around the mid 1960s, and continued its downward slide through the 80s and 90s. It began with buffoonish dad characters, like Darren Stevens on “Bewitched,” Jed Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and even Fred Flintstone.
As the dads shown in prime time began losing authority, the role of women began to gain prominence and influence (of course it’s no coincidence that the women’s rights movement was happening at the time).
This is when women began gaining clout as decision makers in the household, and when advertisers began making females the primary target of their marketing. Who can forget the Virginia Slims campaign aimed at female smokers—“You’ve Come a Long Way Baby”? By the 1970s, one of the top shows on TV was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” featuring an independent, never-married career woman.
A few years later, women were regularly portrayed as the leader of the household. Consider Claire Huxtable in “The Cosby Show” or the mom in “Roseanne”—they were the ones paying the bills, keeping their kids in line, and regularly outsmarting their goofy husbands.
In the 90s, dads weren’t just goofy, they were nonexistent. The top shows of the decade rarely featured the traditional family anymore. Think “Seinfeld,” “Sex and the City” and “Friends.”
No dads in any of them. In fact, one of the only memorable father characters of the decade was Homer Simpson. Hardly a positive role model.
This trend didn’t go unnoticed. In 2008, Kleber and Associates wrote a white paper called “Missing Males,” in which we discussed the shifting portrayal of fathers on TV and in advertising. In the paper, K&A cited research by Rose Cameron, author of a worldwide study on men in the media. She found that “74 percent feel images of their gender in advertising are out of touch with reality.”
In another study conducted by Leo Burnett Worldwide, Inc., nearly 80 percent of American men said they can “barely recognize themselves in advertisements.”
Here’s one example. Verizon Wireless did a commercial in which a father tries to help his daughter with her homework and fails. The daughter is annoyed with her father’s ignorance, and turns to her mother with a look that says, “Obviously males can’t do math—get him out of here.” The mother, in an act of female solidarity, instructs the father to go wash the dishes.
Glenn Sacks, columnist, commentator, talk radio host and highly outspoken critic of male stereotyped advertising, was so angered by this offensive depiction of men that he launched a campaign against Verizon’s “anti-father” advertisement. According to Sacks, Verizon’s ad message was clear—“Dad is dumb, dad is useless, mom is smarter than dad, hell, even an eight-year-old is smarter than dad.”
One of the many letters Verizon received about that ad stated, “When I look around I see men working 50 hours a week or more to support their families, and still managing to help their children with their homework, read them bedtime stories, and be fine role models. Why can’t I see any men like that when I turn on the TV?”
Well, maybe that time has finally come. In the Ad Age article “Move Over Mom, It’s Dad’s Turn In Ads,” it says that the depiction of fathers in advertising is beginning to change, with “fatherhood featured prominently, positively in…this year’s Super Bowl.”
“Kind and gentle dads,” they write, “are populating pitches this year for everything from General Mills’ Cheerios and Hyundai Sonata to Similac. Proud papas will also star in at least three Super Bowl spots—for Unilever’s Dove Men+Care, Toyota and Nissan.”
So why the sudden emergence of positive dads in ads? Jennifer Bremner, marketing director of Dove Men+Care, explains it well in the Ad Age article. “Talking to dads is just smart from a business perspective,” she says. “Men are doing more shopping, dads in particular.”
Here at Kleber and Associates, we’ll definitely keep that in mind in our marketing of home-related products. Our research shows that men are more involved than ever in home design and making appliance choices.
According to a study by the NPD Group, a retail and marketing data company, not only is the number of men involved in cooking and cuisine at a historical high, but today’s “men covet mixers, toasters and gourmet appliances just as much as navigation systems, mobile phones and audio components.”
Men aren’t just decorating man caves and cooking on barbecue grills anymore. They’re increasingly involved in their home lives, and marketers should tap into this vast market. Forward thinking companies are already providing enhanced style features and amenities that reflect the growing presence of men in this new arena.
It’s similar to the way women were treated by car salesmen years ago. My wife once stopped by a local dealership to browse, and the salesman practically ignored her. “Hey where’s your husband?” they asked.
We ended up buying our car from a dealer across town.
Marketers of kitchen and bath fixtures, appliances and other home design products should learn from those mistakes and stop ignoring the male audience. Whether single, married or fathers, men today represent a significant source of disposable income throughout all areas of the home.