This week, Similac released a new campaign video that has been getting a lot of attention, and with good reason. It's funny, it's touching and it sends a fantastic message about parenting -- that we're all in this together, and judging one another helps no one.
It's really quite fantastic... right up until the last second, when they drop the ball. At least, if the idea is actually to support all parents.
You've probably seen it show up on your Facebook feed, but if not, here it is:
Yep. Once again, it's all about the moms. More specifically, the "Sisterhood of Motherhood."
So close. So close!
Until that unfortunate tagline, this was wonderful. Heck, it still is wonderful! Beyond the great message about all parents not judging one another, it's just brimming with excellent dad-stuff. Honestly, it's one of the first times that a group of dads has been featured like this to my knowledge. Here are these dads, who are, we assume, capable and confident parents, converging at this (exceptionally busy) playground for the same reason as all of the moms are. They're caring for their kids and spending time with their community of fellow parents! They express opinions about parenting! We witness one small way that dads get judged -- the ever so common "Mom must have the day off?" that presumes that a dad caregiving for his own kid only happens if mitigating circumstances mean that either mom can't do it or is taking a much needed break -- and even get to see a guy stand up for himself. Two dads even save the day. Awesome!
It's so rare to see this sort of thing that as something of a dad advocate it got my heart racing, I won't lie.
But then, of course, the whole thing gets undermined, when we find out that by "parent," Similac is, well, really only referring to moms. This call for "no judgement" is really about asking moms to lay off each other. Dads, well, this isn't about you, despite all previous evidence to the contrary.
Now, I can already hear some of you, wondering why this is worth complaining about. You wouldn't be alone. Voicing concerns to Similac on their official Facebook page certainly brought out more than a few comments that this isn't really for dads anyhow, so we should just be happy dads were in it at all, or that by expressing disappointment at how the video ended we're somehow overreacting and being "haters." But this matters. It's not insulting or offensive, and certainly won't make anyone lose any sleep. But it matters that Similac went ahead with this campaign as it is, and they need to know they can do better.
NOTE: I realize that the whole breastmilk vs. formula thing is precisely the sort of thing the Internet likes to argue about. For the purposes of this post, let's please set aside for a moment whether or not one is better than the other.
Why This Matters
I want to point out one major difference here between calling out Similac and previous times brands have been called out on this blog. With each of the previous brands, a big part of why they were being called out was because they were doing something they should have known better than to do. Huggies, Clorox, Tide... all three had stumbles in their portrayals of dads, but they were worth being called out because all three had made clear that they were striving to improve how they marketed to and about dads. If a friend says "I want to do _____ better!" and they don't do better, it's worth letting them know and helping them improve. Such was the case with all three, and all three responded to the feedback in positive ways. They did improve.
With Similac, it's a little bit different. They've never included dads, to my knowledge, in any significant way. Their website is, like many baby-related products, a case study in All Mom All The Time Syndrome. I don't doubt they "value dads," as much as a brand itself can "value" anything, but they also regularly use "Mom" as a catch-all for parent and pretty much ignore dads as potential customers. Their "StrongMoms" campaign, which has long been focused on "no judgement," is not new and has never featured dads. Literally the only mention of dads on the entire Similac website (that I could find) is one "tips for fathers-to-be" article and a small inclusion on another article on what to pack to take to the hospital.
And so, with the arrival of this video, short of the title, until the final moments, this looked like Similac's reach for the brass ring of recognizing dads as parents too. And wow, it sure looked like a winner! An incredibly original, funny, poignant and in many ways brave campaign that prominently features caregiver dads and even goes so far as to point out that dads face judgement from other parents too. It talked about being "parents first" in a terrifically gender-neutral way. Eagle-eyed viewers can even pick out parents of both genders that are subtly suggested to be same-sex partners.
And then, superimposed over this utopic shot of these parents -- moms and dads, who had previously argued and judged one another -- co-mingling and bonding over their shared experience as parents, we find out that, well, when Similac says "parents first" what they really mean is "moms first," and welcome all moms to the "Sisterhood of Motherhood."
Whether dads are not invited, or invited as long as they don't mind being called sisters and mothers, isn't clear. But either way, it's a major, and so disappointingly unnecessary flip of the otherwise groundbreaking script.
I think the worst part is that this could have been changed so easily to be about all parents, rather than cutting off ~50% of parents at the knees at the last second. They call the video "The Mother 'Hood," a clever little play on "motherhood" and the image of these roving gangs being tough with one another. But there's no reason that couldn't be "The Parent 'Hood." None. Same with their choice of campaign hashtag -- #SisterhoodUnite -- which could so easily be #ParentsUnite or #ParenthoodUnite instead.
Then there is their choice of tagline, "Welcome to the Sisterhood of Motherhood," which is, in my opinion, not even close to being so memorable and flowy that the very same sentiment could not have been done in a way that didn't exclude dads from the equation. What's wrong with "Welcome to the Community of Parenthood"? Or "Family of Parenthood"?
The goal of the project, to quote directly from what a Similac representative commented to me, is "meant to uplift and encourage all parents in the decisions they make for their families." So why make the tagline mom-specific?
Why Similac Should Care... and Change Course
I will be the first to admit that moms are probably still buying most formula. It makes sense for Similac to want to appeal to them. But like Huggies before them, a very real and understandable target audience of moms need not and should not mean ignoring or excluding dads. Dads have purchasing power too, and influence over household purchases, and there is absolutely no reason why Similac would want to make dads feel excluded.
Beyond that, in fact, there is every reason why Similac should be actively going after dads as customers. For many, bottle feeding is the only way for a dad to experience the bonding time of feeding a newborn or infant, or even just to take on a larger share of feeding as a good parenting partner. Gay dads, for example, unless a surrogate is providing breastmilk, are relying on formula to feed their child. As are many single dads, and adoptive dads. Why would you not want to capture that market? Why pretend it isn't there or doesn't matter to you?
There are only two parenting tasks that fathers cannot do: give birth and breastfeed. Bottle feeding actually closes the gap on the latter, allowing formula-fed babies to be nourished just as well by a dad as by a mom.
Quite simply, Similac, your product is absolutely 100% gender neutral.
Your advertising should be too.