What is Dove’s “Men Care” Up To?

Engaged Male Parenting

When I see commercials with aloof dads, I don’t think much of them. The mom talks to the camera, the kids eat and play, and the dads act clueless (uh, honey, where do we keep the cheese?). I’ve heard the arguments that these commercials make dads look like idiots, and I buy that, but after years of watching mothers mis-portrayed in commercials, I’m not going to pretend that we dads are major victims. When I watch these commercials, I know I am not going to buy whatever they are selling anyway. So I just hit the mute button, check email, or go downstairs to get a snack (and I know all too well where the cheese is—my nightly snack).

The commercial never says what a Dove product is going to do for a man, or even what products are available; at its simplest, the commercial is a montage of engaged male parenting.

The point is that I ignore those commercials because they don’t speak to our family, our parenting style, or me. That is starting to change, thanks to the recent influx of what one blogger called “Dadvertising.” The Super Bowl broadcast featured several high-profile commercials celebrating the many sides of fathers.

The one that stood out—and the one I see the most when I’m watching sporting events now—is the Dove Men+Care commercial in which kids say the word daddy in different situations of poignancy, elation, and consolation. Towards the end of the advertisement, writing appears that says, “What makes a man stronger? Showing that he cares.” The commercial never says what a Dove product is going to do for a man, or even what products are available; at its simplest, the commercial is a montage of engaged male parenting.

Recently, star players from the National Basketball Association have cut promos in support of LeanIn.org, a foundation that advocates for gender equality. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Steph Curry, among others, share the notion that gender equality is good for women, men, and children. The success of the Dove campaign may have helped this cause, and may show a positive trend in advertising.

The cynical side of me says, “Well, they just want my money,” or “Fatherhood can’t be wrapped up in a simple 60-second package.” The glass-is-three-fourths-full side of me says, “who cares?” Look, I am guilty of sometimes checking Cubs scores and don’t always hear my daughters ask me a question about their homework. Sometimes I forget to ask them about their days at school. Sometimes I get caught up in work and I don’t cook dinner for them until after seven. Yes, it’s a commercial, but any reminder to be engaged is welcome on my TV.

Monday, our family was at the Oregon coast for spring break when my wife suggested that we go for a barefoot family run on the beach. For those of you not familiar with the Oregon coast, I’ll say simply that it’s not Florida. Yes, there may be sun, but in March, wind and rain is possible, if not probable. Five minutes after embarking on our little excursion, the wind hit over 30 miles per hour and it started to hail. My eight-year-old looked up at me and said enthusiastically, with all earnestness, “Isn’t this fun, Dad?”

My first instinct was to answer back something much stronger than “heck no,” but my inner editor squashed that thought and I answered back, albeit less enthusiastically, “Yeah, this is fun.” After I saw her delight in our blustery run, I ignored the fact that I couldn’t feel my feet and I decided that it was fun. I’m not one that normally quotes Marie Osmond, but she once said that if we say we’re going to laugh about something one day, then we might as well laugh now. When I ran into the rain and hail, it stung; it wasn’t fun. But years from now, when we talk about Spring Break 2015, the hail will be the size of golf balls, the wind will be 80 miles per hour, and we’ll all talk about it fondly.

There’s a pretty good chance I’m never going to buy a Dove product, but that’s because I don’t need what they’re selling. So they haven’t gained a customer. Commercial cynicism aside, Dove has earned my appreciation, and I’m already seeing how this advertisement is influencing future advertising campaigns.

Now, if Dove starts selling cheese . . .