It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
Kimberly-Clark wanted to demonstrate the superiority of their Huggies diapers on television, and to do this they chose a stereotype right out of 1950s situation comedies.
They wanted to show how well their diapers did their job under even the worst possible conitions. And what conditions could be worse than putting them in the hands of the most hapless, clueless, inept adults known to American folklore — fathers?
The “Dad Test”
The Huggies “Dad Test” campaign filmed five babies left alone in the same house with their fathers for five days, on the premise that if Huggies could survive five days with these bumbling boobs, they could survive anything.
“To prove that Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything,” the female voice-over begins, “we put them to the toughest test imaginable — Dads.”
In other words, as a consumerist.com headline put it, Huggies diapers are so good, even dads can’t use them wrong.
The poop storm
Dads across the country were not amused. They had good reason not to be.
It turns our that 32% of fathers are their children’s primary caregivers. And most of the other 68% pitch in with child care — at least to the extent of knowing how and when to, uh, change a diaper.
So leaving babies with their dads is not some kind of torture test, but everyday life.
Bloggers at goodmenproject.com complained that this was “NOT a way to ‘celebrate fatherhood.’ Most dads don’t struggle with infant care today…Time Magazine, in an article last year titled ‘Chore Wars,’ found that dads are nearing equality to moms in time spent with their children. Clearly most dads know what a diaper is and how to use it.”
Another group organized a change.org petition drive against Huggies’ “stereotype of dumb fathers.”
They were far from the only ones.
“We have heard the feedback from dads concerning our current ‘real-life’ commercials,” Kimberly-Clark spokesman Joey Mooring e-mailed.
“We intended to break out of stereotypes by showing that dads have an opinion on product performance just as much as moms do,” he added.
But you don’t “break out of stereotypes” by reinforcing them.
An expensive lesson
As a result of its dad-driven epiphany, K-C has pulled the offending commercial. You’ll no longer see it on channels 6, 8, 12 and 35, or on any of the Comcast or Verizon cable channels serving the Richmond metro area. It’ll be replaced by another, presumably inoffensive, one.
Scrapping that first commercial is probably a half million dollars or so in talent and production costs down the drain (plus the cost of the air time).
Kimberly-Clark is also “revising the wording of the Huggies brand online communications” and “making changes to ensure that the true spirit of the campaign comes through in the strongest way possible.”
That’s still more money.
They’re also sending members of their brand management team to this weekend’s Dad 2.0 Summit in Austin to meet with bloggers and get to know their audience better — something they should have done long before approving storyboards.
Insulting consumers doesn’t sell them
Kimberly-Clark made two rookie mistakes that even local Richmond advertisers should know enough to avoid.
First, they failed to learn their audience. That’s not hard to do, and it doesn’t require thousands of dollars of consumer research. They could have Googled parenting information. They could have found the Time article. And they could have spoken to actual customers — something that’s even easier to do when you’re a local business.
Second, they condescended to a significant portion of their audience. They trotted out a timeworn stereotype and made a joke of it. But consumers don’t like being the butt of humor, and you don’t sell anyone on your product by insulting them.