skip to site navigation

D(ad) Break

We’ve all seen commercials on television that depict fathers as bumbling idiots around babies. That was then, but have thing got any better?

Hugh Joughin takes a look.

I don’t watch a lot of television. Can’t stand the thing most times, and it really annoys me when households just have it on every evening as a background distraction. The university radio station RDU brought out a bumper sticker a few years ago with the slogan “Kill your television”.

I liked that sticker, but was not allowed to stick it on the back windscreen of our car. I guess the word “kill” is a wee bit over the top, particularly on a car that is capable of doing just that.

Anyway, for the sake of this article I chose not only to watch a bit of screen (television that is), but pay particular interest to the most annoying bits. So with remote in hand (for channel hopping purposes), I committed myself to some fairly intensive television viewing and watched hundreds and hundreds of commercials, keenly looking for positive depictions of fathers.

However, I soon found myself keenly looking for any depictions of fathers at all. The old adage of not working with animals or children seems to still be relevant today. Reinforcing traditional gender roles are of course advertising’s great domain.

Women still feature strongly in the kitchen and laundry extolling products, and blokes do all the outside stuff involving power tools (I really wish “Cocksy” from the Placemakers ads would think of an alternative, perhaps more original nickname). In the wonderful world of commercials, kids still come home to Mum more often than not.

Overall, the ad agencies don’t seem to be too interested in families, much less parents, much less fathers. I noted with interest that there are as many grandparent/grandchild (usually male) as parent/child situations in commercials, perhaps to do with the gradual aging of the population.

Remember the ad for “Worthers Original” lollies a few years ago, or the 60+ insurance schemes? These commercials came complete with cute, doting grandchildren who naturally did all the right things.

Therefore the following is a short list of advertisements brave enough to venture into the realm of parenting.

1. Fisher & Pykel.

The latest campaign features snippets of people around the world using appliances and, if you look closely enough, you do see a father holding a baby while trying to cook dinner in the microwave.

Unfortunately it looks as though he is failing miserably at both tasks; in fact it almost looks as though he might be ready to actually put the baby in microwave and have it for the main course.

Modern appliances are supposed to make life easier, but this guy just doesn’t seem to get it.

That tired old cliché about men doing two jobs at the same time springs to mind. The message-men aren’t too crash hot in the kitchen, or with babies.

2. New World Supermarkets.

Father goes shopping with his young son (a natural successor to the mother and daughter of a few years ago. You know, she left the daughter in the trolley at the checkout).

And surprise surprise, this father is totally incapable of doing a “sensible shop” and actually getting everything that is required. He’s a classic impulsive buyer who gets six items from the lady at the promotions stand.

Once again, he doesn’t have a clue, which is confirmed when he gets home and has to face a disbelieving female partner. The message-blokes can’t food shop.

(In a rather spooky footnote to this, I found myself doing the food shopping at New World St.Martins the very day after I first saw this advertisement. I had my youngest daughter with me, who has the habit of racing into the supermarket to look at the flower stall near the front door as I get the trolley. As I walked in, the lady at the flower stall said to her “So, where is your Mummy then?!”).

3. Holden Commodore SV6.

Yet another father and son combination. With so much petrol-headed testosterone swirling around, what else would you expect?

4. State insurance.

Father and son (ho hum) playing cricket and end up breaking a window which is not particularly original.

5. “Karicare” baby formula.

One of the worst. This father is totally incompetent, and is portrayed as completely infant illiterate. (This product shouldn’t be advertised anyway – breaking the ethics of the World Health Organisation code, but this is another story altogether).

6. “Playskool” ride on/scooter.

Lots of energetic young children, with lots of mums and not a father in sight. The message-women, not men, look after the kids.

7. Cobb & co.

Big family group eating out and having fun, with the caption “Mum & co”. Strange seeing how probably most, if not all, the chefs out the back are male.

8. “Literacy network”.

Quite a new advertisement promoting the benefits of reading to children. An initiative supported (and possibly funded) by “The Warehouse”, it is the only depiction I saw of a father engaging with children in a really positive non sporting way.

The use of an ‘ideal’ family of two boys and one girl was interesting, but I don’t want to be too picky. Also interesting to note the involvement of The Warehouse, who are very family friendly in their advertising (particularly in print).

As previously stated in Father and Child magazine issue 23, they are also just about the only company who show fathers and daughters during the run up to Fathers day. The verdict-definitely the pick of the bunch. (The butter ads of a few years ago, which featured Dads reading “Hairy McLary” books to their kids at bedtime was also good).

Idiotic males department.

A special mention must be made of “Mr. Muscle” floor cleaner. O.K. So not a father figure but hey, there is a man doing the household cleaning, but why does he have to be portrayed as a complete moron and the world’s biggest power dweeb.

“Spray And Wipe” kind of counters this with their very own singing, manic, female cleaning person, but do two wrongs make a right? Also, AMI Insurance had a series of ads recently which portrayed a totally incompetent male driver.

Sick children are overwhelmingly nursed by mothers in television commercials. From Vicks Vaporub to cough medicines, it’s the same old story.

There’s an American ad (that I saw on one of those dreadful shows about foreign ads) for a cough lotion that shows a man in a business suit getting his kids ready for school. The house resembles a refuse station with general disarray and mayhem, with laundry overflowing and food all over the kitchen.

It’s snowing outside, but the kids are about to leave for school in shorts and T shirts. It then shows poor Mum in bed with a cold. Traditional gender reinforcement at its very worst. Only in America! Let’s hope that commercial never reaches our shores.

Print advertising is even worse, with the already mentioned exception of The Warehouse. Have a look through all the parenting magazines. I challenge you to find a father portrayed in the advertisements. Most big department stores do not venture outside the norm.

Mothers and daughters promote the domestic stuff, and fathers and sons do all the sporty and outdoor pursuit things.

It would be great to see advertisers broaden the scope of gender roles. Fathers are getting more and more recognition in society as perfectly competent parents. However, they are still being portrayed too often as a token parent, or a plaything for children.

And the bumbling Dad is certainly still out there in television land. The roles of men and women in the home have undoubtedly changed significantly over the past few decades, but the advertising media is falling woefully short in reflecting this change.

Take a look at the annoying bits next time you’re watching some mindless rubbish, and make up your own mind.

Next: Potty Time

Father & Child News