Why Does P&G’s Olympic Ad Thank Only Moms?

Mom and her athlete share a celebratory hug (businessinsider.com).

Mom and her athlete share a celebratory hug (businessinsider.com).

Stay-at-home dad Andy Hinds takes issue with the new Procter and Gamble (P&G)  Olympic ad campaign, “Pick Them Back Up,” over at The New York Times’ Motherlode blog. Hinds notes a number of shortcomings, but he is most troubled by P&G’s thanking only mothers for picking up and dusting off their tumbling little ones, encouraging them to try again.

There’s clearly something to be said for corporations – and society at large – acknowledging and appreciating the personal sacrifices made by both mothers and fathers. Children’s lives are undoubtedly richer for having two involved parents, who teach them not only how to ice skate, but also how to navigate life off the ice.

This ad celebrates the intimate and crucially important parent-child bond. It portrays a tiny fraction of the countless things parents do to help their young children grow and develop, as well as the thrill parents feel when they watch their grown children succeed.

Athletes excel in part because of their innate talent, but another crucial ingredient is having supportive friends and family, particularly parents, who tirelessly encourage their children’s athletic efforts. Even Hinds acknowledges: “The ‘Pick Them Back Up’ ads feature some powerful sports-and-life lessons imparted by moms about perseverance, overcoming obstacles, dealing with disappointment and recovering from disasters.” Those are undoubtedly lessons that benefit all of us, regardless of our athletic prowess.

As for Hinds’ point about the absence of fathers in the ad, I have some thoughts. First, Hinds’ being a stay-at-home father is admirable, but fathers represent a mere 3.5 percent of all stay-at-home parents. So, men like Hinds are a distinct demographic minority and simply less likely to be cheered in a public and impersonal forum like televised advertising.

“The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade. Roughly 189,000 men stay home to care for their children while their wives go to work outside of the home, according to the Census Bureau’s Profile America on Father’s Day 2013. . . . [N]early 20 percent of fathers with children under the age of 5 are the primary caretaker,” which is presumably many more than in the past, but still far from parity.

Second, given the changing face of American families, it is politically incorrect to lionize two-parent families in advertising. That means companies are less likely to show two-parent families enjoying their products than they once were, and if only one parent is represented, it is frequently the mother. Those casting choices reflect a certain statistical reality. While 16 percent of single parents in the U.S. may be men, the overwhelming majority of them are women.

Pew Research Center made headlines last year for trumpeting that 40-percent of American households with children are now headed by breadwinner moms. Sixty-three percent of those breadwinners are single moms, and their children’s fathers may be entirely absent. For such mothers and children, a P&G ad featuring an involved dad may simply not be relatable.

In the end, no advertising spot can be all things to all people. There is simply not enough time. Yet, taken on its own terms, the ad is appealing for its celebration of family, hard work, and perseverance in the face of adversity. And when our Olympians compete in Sochi next month, I’ll gladly cheer for them and all of their loving parents.

This article appeared in Acculturated.


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