First, a little history lesson for those just joining us:
If you don’t recall, Proctor & Gamble became the “Proud Sponsor of Moms” back during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Then came the debut of a massive global advertising campaign, the largest in its history, during the 2012 Summer Olympics. They called it “Thank you, Mom.” Between the two Olympics, P&G’s extremely talented ad people made several exceptionally well done, tear-jerking commercials about the hardworking moms of Olympic athletes. They even covered the travel expenses of moms so they could fly to London, and they pampered them in the P&G “Home Away From Home” to “help keep U.S. moms connected with their athletes.” It was an expansive campaign, that continues on long after the Olympics were over under the #ThankYouMom banner.
Let me be clear: cynicism about this being an ad campaign aside, thanking mom is totally admirable, because, let’s face it, moms are amazing and worthy of being thanked and thanked and thanked.
But like many others I had to ask the same thing: Where are the dads?
I don’t think you’ll find anyone who doesn’t admit that when it comes to their kids and sports, dads have a very good track record of being highly involved. Many Olympic athletes even have dads who set aside their own careers to be there for their child. All else being equal in terms of homes without a mom and a dad at all, or with the kind of absent fathers who always miss Little League games, very few Olympic athletes make it to the level they do without dad being on the sidelines watching just as often as mom. Among medal winners, I know that Apolo Ohno’s mom walked out of his life early on and he was raised by a single dad, while shooter Kim Rhodes and gymnast Danell Leyva are both coached by their dads (as are many, many more).
So why leave those stories out?
No doubt, you say, as many did 4 years ago and again 2 years ago, this is all about selling products, and moms are the prime target for most P&G products. Very true. I know of no one who doesn’t recognize this, even those of us who think such focused targeting is missing out on a rapidly growing customer base (dads like me).
But part of what made the #ThankYouMoms campaign so unique was how it broke the usual mold, and stood out by not being a product-specific campaign at all, but a big huge statement about the values that this mega-corporation wants you to believe they hold.
P&G is the “Proud Sponsor of Moms,” they declared. We love you! We see you! Feel the love? It’s for you, the one responsible for the success of your amazingly gifted child! (Now buy our products…)
Lots of people wrote about it, though not all of the negative reactions were due to the complete absence of recognizing that fathers play a role too. Others disliked the “because being a mom is the hardest job” stuff or the perception in the ads that moms don’t have any other work they do, anyhow. Some people just saw it as pandering, and beneath their notice at all.
P&G was asked why they chose to leave out of half of the parenting equation, but no one seemed to ever get a good answer. The official P&G response was basically “No no no no, we love dads! Look! Here’s a single 30-second shaving cream ad about how Dads are awesome too (though only at raising athletic sons) that we’ll play during Father’s Day Week! Yay dads! Yay shaving!”
It struck a little hollow (as nicely done as the “Here’s to Dad” ad was) but it opened the door to a lot of conversations with brand people at P&G, and it felt like maybe they’d heard enough feedback that next time they’d think about shifting the campaign into a much more inclusive and diverse direction. I mean, what’s so difficult about making it “Thank you, Mom and Dad”? Or even better, “Thank you, Parents,” so as to include even more families?
These past couple of years since London there were great discussions between P&G and their various brands with prominent dads who work with marketers and the media to help better represent modern families. There were lots of wonderful promises about recognizing the importance and influence of dads. There were a few really nice campaigns for and by dads (though usually just around Father’s Day, of course, and strangely still under the umbrella of the #ThankYouMom campaign). They vastly improved upon their Tide commercials after seriously considering feedback about the poorly conceived Dad-Mom ads. They even included some great research by P&G into the active parenting that the modern dad is playing that showed it was about equal to that of mom.
Then the 2014 Winter Olympics come into view, and what happens?
Beautiful, eh? Just wonderful.
Yay falling down! Yay getting back up again! Yay moms! You’re awesome! Thank you, Mom!
Only mom, that is. This is, after all, “#BecauseOfMom.”
P&G hasn’t just come up empty on following through on their effusive words about seeing moms and dads as equally important. No, when it comes to their biggest possible stage in the world on which to talk about their corporate values, they’ve doubled-down on Moms.
In this case, specifically white moms, but I’ll leave that not-unimportant issue to someone else, and meanwhile hope that the rest of the campaign’s commercials get more diverse on that front.
Lisa Belkin from the Huffington Post wrote a great piece that touches on the continued lack of dads in P&G’s massive Olympic campaigns, before delving into some lessons that moms who raise Olympic athletes can teach us. The response she got from a P&G rep about the issue was disheartening:
“[The ad campaign] simultaneously makes this mother proud, and also makes her wonder why P&G has left dads out of their equation. But Jodi Allen, P&G’s VP of North American marketing and brand operations, assured me in an interview that “it goes without saying that dads play an important role, too,” and that the company “honors dads through programs from our brands like Gillette.” However, she added, P&G has “found that both the athletes themselves and their dads really welcome the chance to honor the role moms play in helping their kids achieve their dreams.”
Well, if expensive marketing research shows that dads are happy to cede this spotlight, then I shall accept that for the moment…
If it’s alright with Lisa, I don’t accept that excuse.
If it really “goes without saying that dads play an important role too,” why not change the campaign to “Thank you, Parents” and thank everyone?
And again with the bone throwing via a Gillette ad! Why once again just relegate dads to the advertising equivalent of a footnote in need of a shave? Is Gillette the only P&G brand that wants to honor dads? Do you really think that a pro-dad shaving product commercial is the same thing as a product-free “these athletes have their moms to thank for their success” love-fest?
Would you ever, ever, in a million years do a company-wide campaign targeting, say, the awesome men throughout history that have fought proudly in the US military, and go out of your way to make sure you clarify that you are only talking about MEN? Would you try to assuage complaints about leaving out women in the military by saying “Well yeah, but we also made a ‘Here’s to the female soldiers’ Tide commercial!”?
As to the passing this off as something the athletes and their dads “welcome,” do you really expect that these athletes, many of whom are counting on your sponsorship dollars just to make ends meet, are about to say they don’t like your “moms moms moms” approach to honoring the people who you say taught them how to be a champion? Of course they “welcome the chance” to honor their moms in a worldwide ad campaign. And of course their dads step out of the way — stepping out of the way when it comes to recognizing their role as a parent is what men are trained and expected to do, remember? Besides, you already established that you think their role is secondary to the real parenting workhorse.
Listen, despite my 1400+ words here I actually don’t think this is a huge insult. They’re not saying dads are stupid or useless, they’re, well, just pretending dads don’t exist for the purpose of this campaign, except where it suits them (i.e. selling shaving cream). Exclusion doesn’t always mean it’s actually offensive, unless you really dig to find that offense.
What it is is a big disappointment. P&G failed to live up to the bar for which they claimed to be reaching, and missed a golden opportunity to do a solid for all parents who struggle and fight to help their kids reach their dreams.
Clearly, in the words of Dad 2.0 Summit co-founder Doug French, we still have more work to do.
As always, be honest, but please be respectful. The people who run P&G’s social media are not responsible for any of this, but if they receive enough genuine, usable feedback about your disappointment at their decision to double-down on leaving dads as a footnote, the message will get through.
Want a couple of examples of how to do it right? Look no further than Petro-Canada’s 2012 “Shared Glory” series, and their much better tagline “It’s mom and dad’s victory too.”