Real Media Messages: Dadvertising

Two Narratives

I don’t regularly watch cable or broadcast television – which might seem weird for someone who is a media literacy educator, but I do watch videos online frequently.

I’ve also never been much of a sports fan, always identifying more as an “art and music” guy. I’ve only been invited to two Super Bowl parties in my life. The first of which I was quickly dis-invited to and asked to leave for talking too much during the game, and the second time a co-worker invited me over “just for the commercials”. Truth be told I only went for the beer and nachos.

With that said, I’m always surprised when people enthusiastically ask,

“Did you see that new (insert brand name X) commercial? It’s awesome!”

As if it was the actual show, and not the advertisement that disrupts the show.

Of course this tends to happen frequently in the weeks leading up to and just following the Super Bowl each year, when advertisers showcase what is to be considered the most innovative and often risqué commercials of the television season.

This year’s advertising zeitgeist produced the phenomenon now known as “Dadvertising”, marketing specifically aimed at men who are fathers, often invoking strong emotional imagery of dads and their kids bonding and sharing a special moment together as a hook.

One particular ad has been garnering a lot of attention lately – Dove’s “Dove Men +Care” and their accompanying social media campaign #RealStrength.

The commercial and ad campaign have been heralded as the harbinger of a kinder, gentler brand of fatherhood in the advertising world, proof that the “New Fatherhood” or “Fatherhood 2.0” has reached a tipping point within popular culture.

Dove has regularly attracted positive attention for their “Dove Real Beauty” ad campaigns calling out the unrealistic expectations society holds women and girls to and challenging harmful and unhealthy dominant narratives of female beauty. So it would seem to make sense that they would also challenge traditional narratives of fatherhood – to celebrate dads as nurturers and caregivers.

However, like many advertisers Dove is only telling part of the story.

Dove is owned by a larger parent company, Unilever. Unilever is British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company producing a number of nutrition, cleaning, and hygiene products. Dove is just one of over 400 brand names owned by Unilever and each brand has their own marketing and ad campaigns including Axe/Lynx – a popular line of hygiene products aimed at young men.

Both Dove and Axe/Lynx brands sell hygiene products for men, such as shampoo, deodorant, body washes and sprays, and shaving gels. Unfortunately the stories they use to market and sell those products are polar opposites of each other.

While the Dove marketing campaigns seem to be challenging traditional gender norms, celebrating diversity, and rebranding beauty as a holistic expression of the true self, Axe and Lynx’s campaigns relish in old school, hegemonic themes of male privilege and entitlement, misogyny, and objectification of women.

Two brands. Two narratives about masculinity. One parent company.

To highlight the discrepancies between the two brands and their campaigns I created this mash-up parody video based on the Dove Men+Care ad with samples of various Axe and Lynx ads mixed in. The video highlights why developing media literacy skills is important not only for yourself, but also for your kids.

I’m not suggesting that both the “Dove Real Beauty” and the “Dove Real Strength” campaigns are completely without benefit, as there is value in their ability to signal boost new healthier narratives about gender, beauty, relationships, and parenting to the masses, but as savvy consumers of both products and media we should expect and demand more.

It’s important to note that for all of their merits both campaigns continue to assign traditional gender characteristics to their target audiences. Women = beauty. Men = strength.

In a 2006 survey by the National Fatherhood Initiative, fathers identified negative media and popular culture portrayals of fathers as the #2 barrier to responsible fathering. Countless studies demonstrate the connection between idealized female beauty and the real life body and self-esteem issues girls and women struggle with. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified media literacy education as an important tool in the primary prevention of sexual assault. This speaks to how important and powerful the stories we tell about who we are and how we relate to each other are. In essence these stories define our culture.

Share how media literacy makes you smarter at #RealMediaMessages.

Link to the original “Dove Men+Care”.