How brands can engage dads without discounting moms

How brands can engage dads without discounting moms
By Michelle Ruiz-Ponce
Michelle Ruiz-Ponce
Partner, Integrated Communications
Michelle Ruiz-Ponce's Recent Articles
Engaging Gen Z through authentic messaging
Apr 25, 2023
While there are many types of families, new research offers insights for brands that wish to inspire participation among dads in opposite-sex couples. Here’s our analysis.
Distance learning, remote work, daycare closures, hybrid returns to office—the COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting effects wreaked havoc on household routines, rhythms, schedules, and, of course, the sanities of parents and kids alike.

With families stuck inside during the pandemic, one aspect of the family dynamic quickly came to light: the disparity in time spent parenting between moms and dads. While dads stepped up and spent more time parenting during the pandemic, mom time increased further still, ultimately worsening the gap. A National Library of Medicine study revealed that mothers were more likely to have increased their housework time (55%) compared with fathers (45%). But moms and dads both reported spending more time on childcare (36% and 33%, respectively). The pandemic made childcare responsibilities a more significant part of nearly all parents’ daily lives as they attempted to keep younger children entertained. It also played a key role in their education, with many parents devoting significant time to facilitating distance learning.

For today’s brand and marketing leaders, the question of accurate representation begs an all too familiar question: How do we celebrate progress without disregarding the ongoing, more systemic divide? To some, this line of cultural questioning can feel lose-lose—someone is always going to feel slighted. But by re-working the challenge to inspire participation among dads, brands can build and deepen engagement among both parents without appearing to ignore stubborn gender disparities.

Dads are ready to take on more

It is no surprise to fathers that, in most cases, mothers take on a large majority of parenting responsibilities. In fact, about three-quarters of moms in opposite-sex relationships (74%) said they did more to manage their children’s schedules and activities than their spouse or partner; only 3% said their spouses or partners took on more of these responsibilities. But dads are ready to take on more. While brands do not need to suddenly shift marketing efforts to reflect an even distribution of parenting responsibilities, they should look to acknowledge dads as more present and engaged these days.

  • Unsurprisingly, many dads feel slighted when they are not recognized as active parents in marketing. In fact, according to a Pew Research study, most dads in opposite-sex relationships (63%) said being an involved parent was equally shared between them and their spouse or partner. While responsibilities may still not always be equally shared, parental involvement continues to evolve. Dads continue to make strides when it comes to being active parents and want to see themselves reflected in marketing materials and activations.
  • Dads are not only hoping to see themselves reflected in a brand’s marketing to parents but are also open to learning how to make their lives easier in the process of becoming the best dad they can be. According to Mintel, 55% of dads (compared to 33% of moms) said they like getting parenting advice from brands. If a brand has the advice to help a dad be more active and engaged, most seem to be willing to listen.

Fatherhood continues to evolve

Americans are having children later in life. According to a study, the average dad is now 30.9 years old at their child's birth and 9% of dads of newborns are at least 40 years old, making fathers established and financially secure when they become parents.

In addition to the difference in age, the cultural landscape of the United States is also changing, with multicultural families becoming the majority at an even faster rate than was originally anticipated. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 52.7% of the population under the age of 18 is multicultural, meaning bicultural and multicultural families lead the population. A report by the National Center for Health Statistics found that Black fathers are more likely than white fathers to bathe, dress, diaper, or help their children use the toilet every day. Similarly, a report by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families found that Latino fathers are more likely than white fathers to report spending time with their children daily. The modern-day dad is not just playing a more active role as a father but also passing down his family’s heritage, culture, and traditions in the process.

While the pandemic amplified this challenge, it is important to note that dads becoming more engaged with parenting responsibilities is part of a larger societal shift in the roles of men and women in the household. While historically, dads spent less time in the home, the binary roles of male breadwinners and female homemakers are a thing of the past. According to the American Psychological Society, between 1948 and 2001, the percentage of working-age women employed or looking for work nearly doubled from less than 33% to more than 60%. With the flexibility of working from home and the changing dynamics of women in the workplace, household tasks—including parenting—are distributed much more equally than before. And with the growing involvement of dads in their children’s lives comes more influence in parenting decisions and purchases.

Tips for marketing to dads

A lot is at stake for brands to successfully engage with the under-tapped market of dads. Dads may not yet be parenting at equal levels, but parenting is a very important aspect of their lives—they’re engaged and actively trying to get better at it.

Today’s dads have distinct beliefs about their roles, methods of finding information, and purchasing behaviors. In fact, if brands are looking to reach dads effectively, they need to use nuanced approaches and messages.

Here are a few ways brands can engage fathers:

  • Revamp “dad insights” to uncover solutions that a brand can help solve.
  • Celebrate the diversity of fatherhood, whether it’s cultural, lifestyle, generational, or regional parenting styles.
  • Partner with influential voices that embrace the changing role of dads in the U.S.
  • Don’t be afraid to take on tension—it may lead to brand creativity and innovation.
  • Provide resources and education for dads that help them play a more active role in their children’s lives.

Dads and moms agree at nearly the same percentage (58% to 57%) that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Engaging with that part of their identity through brand activations and influencers aimed at building up their confidence and skills in parenting is a win for everyone. Dads get the recognition and guidance they’re after—without leaving moms feeling neglected.

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Meet the author
  1. Michelle Ruiz-Ponce, Partner, Integrated Communications

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