Late on the afternoon of March 9, an Examiner.com article criticized a new campaign Kimberly-Clark had started airing for Huggies diapers. The campaign depicted fathers as bumbling, clueless klutzes right out of a 1950s sitcom, and a massive online backlash from dads — 32% of whom are their kids’ primary caregivers — got K-C to pull the first commercial from the air and start hurriedly revising the others in the campaign.
Reaction to the article was, to put it frankly, astounding.
First, because there was so much of it: over 6,000 page views as of midnight, March 12; 222 Facebook likes and just about 100 comments and replies to comments — mostly from women.
And second, because virtually all the women, with only three exceptions, sided with the angry dads.
One woman blowing back against the campaign was Lecia Hale, who wrote, “Sexism works against both sexes… This story makes me proud of our modern dads! Let’s move away from silly stereotypes. They’re not amusing because they’re not true.”
Chloe Williams Hincman went a step further. “My husband and I take an egalitarian approach to homemaking and childcare,” she posted. “We both cook, clean, shop for groceries, and change diapers, among other things. Judging from the number of dads we see at supermarkets and school functions, as well as the experiences of friends and relatives who are raising families, we are not alone in this.”
Birgit W. asked, “Seriously. What is this, 1950?”
Teri Petrou, of Livonia, MI, was equally succinct: “I hate that commercial.”
Melissa Masters concurred. “I’ve always been hyper-aware of media portraying husbands/ fathers as awkward morons,” she posted. “It’s absolutely ridiculous. Way to speak up!”
Alice R. Smith also shouted out to the dads: “This has been an ongoing problem since the ’70s…..to make dads look stupid on tv….I’m glad guys are speaking up at last.”
“I absolutely agree with the dads and applaud them for speaking out,” wrote Kasandra Dewbre Burrows. “Kimberly-Clark probably thought they were appealing to moms through commiseration, when, in truth, moms don’t want to see inept fathers. They want supportive, capable fathers. And men deserve to be shown a new ‘stereotype’ that they can all strive to [become] when first starting out.”
“You go, Dads,”said Terry Longo Coffey. “When I first saw the ad, I thought it was sexist, very poorly done. In today’s culture, so many men are stay-home dads and women work, Just an awful campaign. Shame on you, Huggies. I’m glad my children don’t wear diapers anymore, because I would not purchase Huggies!”
“Now, if the rest of the product companies would get rid of their ‘dumb man’ schticks in their commercials, also,” Pamela Jones wished.
Praise for dads
Some of the women spoke out for fathers as capable parents.
Elizabeth Arce, for example, noted that “even dads that don’t have a clue when their baby is born are old pros in a week or two. My hubby had never changed a diaper in his life, and I showed him once, and then he knew how — no big deal. It’s not rocket science or anything like that.”
Julie Howard Kieras, who praised her husband as “a kind, well-educated, honest, hardworking man who I respect [and who] takes care of our son whenever he’s home from work and makes our family a priority,” also expressed her disgust with “Hollywood/media portrayals of dads as inept, bumbling fools.”
“This is not just offensive to men. It’s also offensive to women,” Balancing Jane concluded. “If dads are ‘the ultimate test’ and can’t be trusted alone with their own children, it means that women must carry the burden of ALL care taking. This stereotype cuts both ways. It undermines men who are good fathers and it undermines women who need competent partners.”
Sauce for the gander?
Only three of the women who commented felt that it was time men got a dose of their own medicine.
“Wow! Men only have thousands of years to be quiet and endure the wrath of offensiveness as women have….boo hoo,” snarked Barabara Paton of Wisconsin.
Cynthia Welle-Erwin agreed with her. “Look at how much was and is out there that is offensive to women,” she exclaimed. “One offends a man and it is taken off right away. Wish it was that way with all the ads, etc., that are offensive and degrading to women. Boo hoo is right!”
According to Laurie Bell, “For these guys to act hurt, makes me laugh. Hey, boys, take your own advice you’ve been giving US for decades: ‘Get over it, and get a sense of humor!'”
Speaking of humor, Allison Kennedy points out, “It isn’t humor if it insults someone.”
Nice thought, but unfortunately history doesn’t support it.
As a new book, Jokes and Targets by Christie Davies, points out, there’s a well-established tradition of humor that insults groups of people: blondes, lawyers, Jewish wives and mothers — to say nothing of ethnic groups (Poles, Italians and, in Canada, Newfies). From Abott and Costello and the Three Stooges to Don Rickles to Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck jokes, insult is and has been what belly laughs are made from.
But that doesn’t mean it should be a staple of advertising, humorous or not. You don’t make sales by insulting the very people who use your product.
Chloe Hincman put her finger on the essential failing of the Huggies campaign when she wrote, “…when I saw this ‘Dad Test’ Huggies commercial, I was unpleasantly surprised that this company and their ad agency are so out of touch with today’s families. To sell a product effectively you have to know your target market, communicate to those consumers that you understand who they are and what they need from your product. Kimberly-Clark has a lot of catching up to do!”
How about that?
Know your target market. Communicate to consumers that you understand who they are and which needs of theirs your product satisfies.
Advertising agencies everywhere, from Madison Street in Richmond to Madison Avenue in New York, should carve that in stone over their doors.