Real Media Messages: Dadvertising

Two Narratives

I don’t regularly watch cable or broadcast television – which might seem weird for someone who is a media literacy educator, but I do watch videos online frequently.

I’ve also never been much of a sports fan, always identifying more as an “art and music” guy. I’ve only been invited to two Super Bowl parties in my life. The first of which I was quickly dis-invited to and asked to leave for talking too much during the game, and the second time a co-worker invited me over “just for the commercials”. Truth be told I only went for the beer and nachos.

With that said, I’m always surprised when people enthusiastically ask,

“Did you see that new (insert brand name X) commercial? It’s awesome!”

As if it was the actual show, and not the advertisement that disrupts the show.

Of course this tends to happen frequently in the weeks leading up to and just following the Super Bowl each year, when advertisers showcase what is to be considered the most innovative and often risqué commercials of the television season.

This year’s advertising zeitgeist produced the phenomenon now known as “Dadvertising”, marketing specifically aimed at men who are fathers, often invoking strong emotional imagery of dads and their kids bonding and sharing a special moment together as a hook.

One particular ad has been garnering a lot of attention lately – Dove’s “Dove Men +Care” and their accompanying social media campaign #RealStrength.

The commercial and ad campaign have been heralded as the harbinger of a kinder, gentler brand of fatherhood in the advertising world, proof that the “New Fatherhood” or “Fatherhood 2.0” has reached a tipping point within popular culture.

Dove has regularly attracted positive attention for their “Dove Real Beauty” ad campaigns calling out the unrealistic expectations society holds women and girls to and challenging harmful and unhealthy dominant narratives of female beauty. So it would seem to make sense that they would also challenge traditional narratives of fatherhood – to celebrate dads as nurturers and caregivers.

However, like many advertisers Dove is only telling part of the story.

Dove is owned by a larger parent company, Unilever. Unilever is British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company producing a number of nutrition, cleaning, and hygiene products. Dove is just one of over 400 brand names owned by Unilever and each brand has their own marketing and ad campaigns including Axe/Lynx – a popular line of hygiene products aimed at young men.

Both Dove and Axe/Lynx brands sell hygiene products for men, such as shampoo, deodorant, body washes and sprays, and shaving gels. Unfortunately the stories they use to market and sell those products are polar opposites of each other.

While the Dove marketing campaigns seem to be challenging traditional gender norms, celebrating diversity, and rebranding beauty as a holistic expression of the true self, Axe and Lynx’s campaigns relish in old school, hegemonic themes of male privilege and entitlement, misogyny, and objectification of women.

Two brands. Two narratives about masculinity. One parent company.

To highlight the discrepancies between the two brands and their campaigns I created this mash-up parody video based on the Dove Men+Care ad with samples of various Axe and Lynx ads mixed in. The video highlights why developing media literacy skills is important not only for yourself, but also for your kids.

I’m not suggesting that both the “Dove Real Beauty” and the “Dove Real Strength” campaigns are completely without benefit, as there is value in their ability to signal boost new healthier narratives about gender, beauty, relationships, and parenting to the masses, but as savvy consumers of both products and media we should expect and demand more.

It’s important to note that for all of their merits both campaigns continue to assign traditional gender characteristics to their target audiences. Women = beauty. Men = strength.

In a 2006 survey by the National Fatherhood Initiative, fathers identified negative media and popular culture portrayals of fathers as the #2 barrier to responsible fathering. Countless studies demonstrate the connection between idealized female beauty and the real life body and self-esteem issues girls and women struggle with. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified media literacy education as an important tool in the primary prevention of sexual assault. This speaks to how important and powerful the stories we tell about who we are and how we relate to each other are. In essence these stories define our culture.

Share how media literacy makes you smarter at #RealMediaMessages.

Link to the original “Dove Men+Care”.


The Problem With Men’s Rights Groups

The problem with “Men’s Rights” groups isn’t that individual men aren’t in need of support and advocacy in their personal lives, or that they aren’t also victims of violence and injustice. The problem is that as a collective of men we haven’t yet really listened to the voices of women well enough to justify amping up our own.

Why Feminist Fathering?

When I first started exploring the overlap between feminism and fatherhood there wasn’t a lot out there. Sure I was up on all of the heavy hitters in regards to men’s work and feminism – Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, Tony Porter, Byron Hurt, Alan Johnson, etc.

And while many of these pioneers in the new men’s movement often dropped “the F word” few did so within the context of fatherhood. There didn’t seem to be a conscious effort to galvanize the two terms or concepts into a single idea. Kimmel and Porter seem to have come the closest and in much of their work the linkage is implied, but things often do not manifest fully until they are properly named and invoked.

As recently as a year ago when you searched for “feminist fatherhood” on Google it would turn up no results and Google would instead ask “Did you mean: feminist motherhood?” It was as if the two terms could not conceivably co-exit together.


Silly Dad feminism is for moms!

It wasn’t actually until last January 2011 that Google started displaying hits for both “fatherhood” and feminism” and it was in relation to various feminist blog postings about the birth of rapper Jay Z’s daughter which precipitated an awakening within him to the plight of women’s issues. Unfortunately the story turned out to be an internet hoax, which is unfortunate because as dads we could really use a celebrity feminist father in our corner.

So that is how this blog came into being. To claim space and create a venue for what I believe to the most important new frontier for fathers in the 21st century – having the courage and conviction to raise our kids with a mindfulness to how gender socialization and politics effect three core areas:

  •  Our personal orientation to parenting as a male-identified parents
  • Our child’s personal development and self-identity across the gender spectrum
  • Our relationship with your child’s mother or other co-parenting partner

A Feminist Father is a dad that seeks to transcend the sociopolitical gender landscape in the noble pursuit of raising a fully realized human being.

 Dads in what ways is feminism enhancing your parenting style and creating positive outcomes your kids and co-parenting partners?

Four Corners Strengthening Families Conference To Be Held In Durango, CO 9/20/12

This coming September 20th the Administration for Children and Families in partnership with Colorado Department of Human services and Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence will be hosting a free conference in Durango, CO for anyone interesting in supporting the positive development of healthy kids, families, and communities.

The theme of the conference is “Thinking Outside The Box” with the goal of connecting family service providers from multidisciplinary backgrounds for a boundary stretching, exploration of promising practices in Human Services. Presentation topics include:

  • Breaking Human Services Silos & enhancing collaborations to provide holistic services
  • Partnering with fathers to promote positive outcomes for kids and families
  • Domestic Violence and sexual assault – it’s everybody’s business
  • Teen Pregnancy prevention strategies and Relationship Education trends
  • ASSET building – can people in poverty save money?
  • Media Literacy and gender socialization
  • Engaging men and boys

Presenters include:

  • Tyler Osterhaus – Colorado Men Against Domestic Violence, Feminist Fatherhood
  • Beth Collins-Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Jennifer Morganto – Colorado Dept. of Human Services PREP Program
  • Sandy Naatz – Administration for Children and Families

The conference is free but you must register in advance by following this link. You can download the flyer here.