Perception, reaction, and the wisdom of Caddyshack

Over this past week, the words of three men braided themselves into a spring-loaded novelty boxing glove and hit me with a right-cross.

The first was a comment that Ron Mattocks, noted dad blogger and Richard Marx enthusiast, left on my post about Ragu’s attempt to Market with Mombloggers. The way that the ad was edited, we dads weren’t portrayed as the most enthusiastic home cooks. Despite the best and snarkiest of intentions, it came off a little tone-deaf. And amid the measured commentary, Ron added the following:

“[I]t doesn’t help when many feel that men are having something of an identity crisis in today’s cultural climate. How do you market to a demographic that’s not too sure how they’re supposed to feel about themselves in the first place?”

The second was Steve Jobs’s death, and the Internet’s resultant blaze of his innovative thinking that inspired some people to herald him as this generation’s Da Vinci. Among all the quotes was this oft-retweeted excerpt from his Stanford commencement speech in 2005:

“Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

And the third was this Ad Age article by Eric Wheeler, who tells us that the idea of the traditional ad campaign, with its celebrity spokespeople and seasonal pushes, is dead on the table:

“Even today, in 2011, after being hit over the head with consumer empowerment, the ad industry is still reluctant to face a very stark reality: it’s no longer the advertiser that controls the message, it’s the recipient.”

As in many aspects, we may parse the words of these three men by relying on a fourth, the eminently quotable Ty Webb:

“Find your center. Hear nothing, feel nothing. Let it happen. And be the ball.”

It’s absolutely true that a lot of marketers aren’t yet sure how to treat dads. (Hell, some of them aren’t even sure how to treat Jenny Lawson, one of the hugest voices on the web.) But that’s their problem. And even though they’ve had their share of missteps (*cough* Klondike *cough*), we’re also seeing signs that a few brands (VW, Saturn, Google) are figuring it out.

As they try to improve their messages, it is our job, as dads and consumers, to show them the way.

If dads sometimes get a bad rap for being less engaged than they should be, it’s because some of us are. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But dads are just as diverse a group as any other, and if we’re gonna douse that fire, we have to step up with our individual water buckets. Own the message that we’re becoming better fathers and more discerning consumers. Why wait for the show to start when we can build the stage?

I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel about myself as a man and a father. I just know that, as a man who 1) heads a household and 2) buys stuff for me and my kids, I don’t like being portrayed as an idiot. Or worse, being ignored entirely. If a brand does either, I’ll tell them about it, and vote with my wallet. And if more men who think the same way can react as a group, the marketers will come around. They want this relationship to work as much as we do.

We might have a downhill lie, and the greens might have been baking all day in the hot sun. In the end, though, it ultimately falls to us to analyze the breaks, shut out all the gallery noise, step onto the green, and make the shot.

We can be the ball. And if we work together and keep the dialogue open and honest, we can re-build the entire course.

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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