Huggies Have “Come A Long Way, Baby” in Depicting Fathers

In one year, Huggies’ advertising went from depicting dads as incompetent boobs to depicting them as capable involved parents. Here’s a brief analysis of how and why they made the change.

What a difference a year makes!

That was then:

ABC News' coverage of Huggies March 2012 ads that depicted dads as "hapless and hopeless in caring for their babies"
ABC News’ coverage of Huggies’ March 2012 ads that depicted dads as “hapless and hopeless in caring for their babies” (click on the picture to watch the piece)

Way back in the Stone Age of March 2012, Huggies ran some ads to show that their diapers could stand up to the “toughest test”- incompetent bumbling dads who don’t know the first thing about caring for kids or changing diapers- after all, they are too busy watching sports and being dumb to be competent. They also built a facebook campaign around getting women to test out Huggies with their incompetent husbands for 5 days and share their stories.

I’m not an oversensitive guy, and I’m not even generally against “doofus dads” humor (Simpsons, Family Guy, etc.)- if something is funny, it’s funny. But these ads were the most unfair and tone-deaf depictions of dads I’ve seen in a looooong time.

This is now:

In April 2013, Huggies* ran this ad:

Huggoes' latest ads show dads as competent, caring co-parents.
Huggies’ latest ads show dads as competent, caring co-parents (click on the picture the play the ad).

So, what has led to this about face?

1. Media Outcry

As depicted in the ABC News piece above, the Huggies ads caused a social media outcry- which the mainstream media also caught on to. Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Huggies, responded to the media criticism like any smart company- by backing down and apologizing. They also went the extra mile by scrubbing any trace of those ads off the internet (otherwise, I would have shown you the original offensive ads). Stalin didn’t do as good a job removing Trotsky from Soviet history books!

2. A Concerted Effort By Dads

The media firestorm was swift, but may not have burned as brightly or for as long without the concerted effort of a few dad bloggers. In particular, Chris Routly (friend on FWF and fellow dad blogger group member) spoke against these ads on his blog, and then started a change.org petition.

Screencap of the change.org petition entitled "We're Dads, Higgies, Not Dummies"
Screencap of the change.org petition entitled “We’re Dads, Huggies, Not Dummies”

Part of the petition read:

Why is a dad on diaper duty an appropriate or meaningful test of the product in any way a mom using them is not? Why reduce dads to being little more than test dummy parents, putting diapers and wipes through a “worst-case scenario” crash course of misuse and abuse? Is that what HUGGIES thinks dads do? We leave our children in overflowing diapers because sports is more important to us? Really?

These HUGGIES ads literally use the line “Dads push diapers and wipes to the limit.” No, HUGGIES, dads don’t do that. Poor manufacturing does that. A large bottle before naptime does that. Feeding your kid too much fiber does that. Babies do that. But dads don’t use diapers and wipes any differently than moms.

The petition took off, many noticed, and Huggies, to their credit, responded. The Huggies brouhaha was also one of the first times in which dads in social media came together around an issue- demonstrating the extent of their influence.

3. Reality Set In

The PR nightmare certainly made Huggies rethink their ads. But I suspect that there is a larger issue at work.

A 2010 marketing journal article reviewed nearly 1400 advertisements targeted at men that aired during sports- and found that 0.1% of those ads showed men in a domestic role, 0.5% showed fathers with emotional connections to their children, and virtually none showed men in a positive family light. The fact is, however, men are increasingly performing household work and, more importantly for advertisers, making the purchasing decisions for these items.

Smart companies see an opening to an under-served market, and several are rushing in to meet their needs (I discuss Tide’s and Expedia’s advertising in prior blog pieces). Dove, Kia and several other companies have sought out specific advice from fatherhood experts and advocates to customize positive marketing campaigns towards men. Many companies attended the Dad 2.0 Summit to build relationships with dad bloggers. Companies are not doing these things to be nice or inclusive or PC. They are doing it to make money.

Women probably make 75% of all diaper purposes. But a smart marketer can grab a bigger share of the remaining 25% by marketing to dads in ways that reflect reality and respect men (of course, being clever and memorable still help).

Dads are men. Dads are involved at home. Marketers who fail to recognize this are missing a big opportunity. It is nice to see Huggies catching on.

*I have NO relationship with Huggies or any other product/brand. We didn’t even use Huggies (the BJ’s store brand worked fine for us). I’m just being an unbiased media observer here. 

What do you think about Huggies’ ads then and now? About marketing to fathers? About media portrayals of dads? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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9 thoughts on “Huggies Have “Come A Long Way, Baby” in Depicting Fathers

  1. As it happens I do most of the grocery shopping in our family. I grab the toddler and head off to the shops, letting my wife (who is expecting) catch up on some sleep, or some reading, or whatever she needs to get done but can’t finish when she has a two year old to control. I just don’t buy stuff from companies that suggest I’m a fool or a rapist. It makes it quite difficult to buy men’s deodorant, but other than that I find it pushes me toward greener products. They tend to be smaller companies, with thinner margins, and so they don’t have the money to go in for big marketing campaigns. Therefore they haven’t had the chance to tell me they think I’m incapable of using their product.

    • Hi Timothy-
      Thank you for reading and your great comment! I like your attitude about advertisers’ portrayal of dads. And I agree we should “vote with our wallets” by supporting (or not) businesses that align with our values.
      But there has been significant progress over the past few years, including a study a colleague of mine did that saw the positive portrayals of dads skyrocket over the past 2 years!

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