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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Most advertisers keep up with ever-changing family roles

Though I’m shopping for a fancy new refrigerator, I may have just crossed LG off my list — forever — because LG apparently believes dDads are too stupid to even feed themselves, much less open a refrigerator door.

LG has fallen into a hackneyed advertising script that’s gone on for a decade too long if you ask me: Dads are stupid. Only savvy moms can save them by picking the right products.

Yet LG may be on the wrong side of history here, as brands like Tide and Dove and Cheerios go the other way and say “Go Dad! Go!” Lest you think I’m exaggerating here, let me describe the LG ad.

Scene: The kitchen. Mom stands at the counter in pressed khakis and sensible sweater. A teenager stands at an open refrigerator door, mute, dumbstruck with indecision.

We hear the mom’s inner thoughts, “He doesn’t really think that if he stares there long enough, new food will magically appear, does he?” She squints at the teen in silent judgment, and then saves him by opening the special door in the LG refrigerator and handing him a juice box. “Where does he get that from?” she asks herself.

Enter the dad character: Unshaven, mouth agape, wearing disheveled sweatpants. He also stands at the open refrigerator door, paralyzed with indecision. “Oh, and there you have it,” the mom thinks to herself. “The tree from which the apple fell.”

Allow me to wretch for a moment.

Now let’s unpack the narrative here. This dad, and his son, are so thoroughly stupid that they can’t even feed themselves. It takes a savvy mom (who obviously buys LG brands) to save them. Allow me to add a counter narrative: This mom not only seems to have made the life decision to marry someone so impossibly stupid, but even her own deft parenting can’t stem the tide of male ineptitude from leaking down the family tree into her progeny. So, who’s the real dummy here, eh lady!?

Clearly, I’m taking this ad way too personally. And here I must fully acknowledge that decades of American advertising has denigrated and disparaged and objectified women to hawk products. Example: Nearly every beer commercial, ever.

But taking ads personally is the core goal of advertising itself. As the great fictional Don Draper from //“//Mad Men//”// explains, “the most important idea in advertising is ‘new’ — creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion.” Furthermore, manufacturers and service companies that sell generic products will spend billions of dollars a year to infuse a brand identity into customers’ own self-identity. This product is who I am, not just what I buy. Ford vs. Chevy, Coke vs. Pepsi, Adidas vs. Puma. Dare I say it — Publix vs. Wal-Mart.

So now let’s look at those brands that seem to know what LG doesn’t. The dynamic of the American family is rapidly changing. Dual earners and dual partners are not just the norm now, but there are all kinds of families, and advertising and media are changing to tap into their experience, draw them in, affirm them, recruit them. Two mMoms. Two dDads. Mixed-race parents. Single mMoms. Single dDads. Houses full of twins and adopted kids and grandkids and crazy gGrandpas who live with the family and give kids too much information. People win and lose jobs so rapidly now that there’s no telling who will support a family, or raise the kids, or both, during any given month.

There’s a small yet growing segment of the advertising landscape out there that’s giving a high five to dads who actually participate in family life: The laundry, the soccer games, the playgrounds and even stay home to raise the kids.

Procter & Gamble recently ran an ad for Tide that shows a stay-at-home dDad folding laundry and appreciating Tide detergent to get out those pesky stains. (He can also do both “fishtail” and “herringbone” hair braids. That’s mad daddy/daughter skills.)

As a recent report by the advertising firm JWT found, more brands are dropping the “Dad as dufus” motif. “People are increasingly questioning long-held assumptions about who does what in the household and makes the most sacrifices.” JWT points to a recent survey from the moving company Mayflower that found seven in 10 millennials would support a move for the wife’s job.

A short film by the brand Dove around Father’s Day showed a long series of moments where kids shout “Dad!” while jumping into the pool, crying about a nightmare, getting stuck on the monkey bars and dancing with Dad at their wedding. This new “Dad is awesome” genre reached a new height with General Mills, which named its Peanut Butter Cheerios the official cereal of dadhood, complete with a video of a dDad deftly managing a pile of kids, and hashtag: #HowToDad. “We never say no to Dress Up. We build the best forts. We do Work work, and Home work.”

Perhaps the most epic example yet is the whole blog Cheerios built to celebrate awesome dads, including one video of a tattooed dad driving with his daughter in the car seat behind, both belting out “Frozen’s” theme song, “Let it Go!”

To me, the most effective ads (positively or negatively) do what Don Draper demands. Make you feel something. You look for those ads on YouTube just so you can send links to your friends.

Ask just about anyone around town about Publix, and they’ll likely remember the company’s Thanksgiving and Christmas ads. Under Armour now has global buzz after it recruited a young ballerina for theirits ads. Her voice reads a horribly humiliating rejection letter a dance academy sent to her younger, 13-year-old self. All the while, we watch her insanely fit body pirouette and leap gracefully on stage. The final line identifies her: American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland. Your move, Nike.

Apple recently won the advertising equivalent of The Oscars with its ad titled “Misunderstood,” where a teen boy constantly looks at his phone during a festive family Christmas gathering. Yet, this seemingly detached kid then walks into the living room and takes over the TV to show an achingly beautiful movie he’s made on his iPhone by surreptitiously recording video of all the family members doing what they do during the holidays — build snowmen, cook, ice skate and smooch when no one is looking. The grandma character cries watching his movie. The mom cries. I defy anyone to watch that ad and not choke up.

In reality, one refrigerator is very much like any other refrigerator in the same price tier: LG, Samsung, Maytag, GE, KitchenAid.

Yet Apple, with that teen TV ad, took what is now another commodity product — the smartphone — and reached right into the hearts of parents and teens and everyone else to show how Apple products can enable the hidden creativity within marginalized and misunderstood people to let them reveal something incredible: Love.

So, listen up LG. You can do better.

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