Fathers the central figure in family brand campaigns

An increasing number of household brands are seeking to make an emotional connection with both sexes by running TV ads that poke a bit of fun at the way modern dads behave.


“Dads are playing an increasingly important role in modern families,” says Allied Bakeries director of brands Will Ghali, who recently oversaw the production of the first TV ads for Kingsmill showing fathers as family heroes as an extension of its Fresh Thinking campaign.

Kingsmill used research to discover that fathers are now more forthright when it comes to choosing and preparing bread, and launched three TV spots all featuring a dad as the main character.

It’s an insight that is supported by recent research into the role that men play in modern parenting, which has found on average 48% of dads share all responsibilities with their partners. In addition, the report by Mintel reveals that 23% say the fact that they wanted to stay home with the children was an important factor when deciding whether their partner returned to work.

Ghali says: “From a marketing perspective, you can be a bit more entertaining with dads, and poke fun at them a bit more. By featuring a dad, you can also appeal to both parents without running the risk of stereotyping mum as housewife.”

Kingsmill is not the only brand to spot an opportunity to harness the modern family dynamic and changing role of dads to broaden a brand’s appeal. Lego, Cravendale, Weetabix and Sainsbury’s have all recently launched campaigns that either feature fathers as a central figure or have widened their strategy to concentrate more firmly on dads. Each of the campaigns is humorous, aspirational and shows a friendly but firm take on modern fatherhood.

By featuring a dad, you can also appeal to both parents without running the risk of stereotyping mum as housewife

For Lego, its dad-focused campaign came from insight gathered from a focus group put together to research an entirely different subject.

Lego UK senior director and head of marketing David Buxbaum says: “The insight that we heard from today’s dads is that they feel they are very different to the previous generation. They aspire to have more of a hands-on relationship with their children and prioritise more time for that.

“One of the challenges they face is finding opportunities to engage with their children in a way that is also relevant to them.”

To answer this need, Lego developed an aspirational campaign focusing on the feelgood factor of father and son having quality time together playing with Lego. The TV ad features them building a Lego house together, but whereas the dad’s half is more organised and conventional, the son’s is imaginative and a little haphazard.

It aims to show that there are different ways people can play with Lego but also suggests that even if a father and son go in different directions they can still meet in the middle and create something exciting together, says Buxbaum.

He adds: “The campaign didn’t feature a specific Lego set. What they ultimately built was not something that you could buy at retail. It was much more of an emotional campaign rather than a specific product-driving campaign.”

Similarly, Sainsbury’s recent Live Well for Less TV ad, which features a dad taking his young child to Brighton for a day out, does not focus on a particular product but instead plays on the emotional connection between father and son.

Kingsmill and Cravendale (below) both feature fathers in their TV campaigns

A Sainsbury’s spokesman says: “We spent a long time discussing what ‘Live Well for Less’ really meant to people. We discovered that ‘living well’ is about making the most of your relationships and spending time with the people you love and care about. It’s also about things that don’t cost much money – messing around on a beach in winter and skimming stones, having a little barbecue and being together (campaign pictured above).

“We tested the idea of a dad and his son having a day out and it was well liked because people do want to spend quality time with their children without spending lots of money.”

Just as emphasising the emotional connection was important in the portrayal of the dad, the slot also uses humour by showing dad and son asleep on the sofa in
a comically similar way on the mother’s return.

During the planning stage of its latest campaign, dairy brand Cravendale also found that companies in its sector had ignored fathers.

“Dads are now more involved in [supermarket] shopping, particularly with the rise of the convenience sector,” says Cravendale brand manager Sophie Macaulay, who explains that the company looked at shopper journeys and found that many men bought milk in a more purposeful way, often under pressure after having been reminded by their partners.


Based on the insight that men were often stressed at the point of purchase, Cravendale’s campaign is based around portraying dads as ‘milk heroes’. “We wanted men to feel that buying Cravendale was the right, even heroic, thing to do,” says Macaulay. “The tone is celebratory rather than nagging.”

Cravendale is now researching the difference in purchasing behaviour when dads go to convenience shops so that they can provide the right mental “jolt” to buy it, says Macaulay. It is looking at point of sale and is likely to advertise on fixtures that men might be drawn to such as the newspapers, magazines and beer aisles. It is also hoping to partner with a radio station to build engagement with men.

For Lego, too, finding the right channels to reach dads was an integral part of the House campaign. Lego’s Buxbaum says: “Ultimately, we wanted to be where we had a high concentration of dads and we wanted to get them in a mindset where they might have their sons with them.

“We advertised during programming like sports, so we were on during the Rugby World Cup finals, where we knew there would be a reasonable likelihood of sons or children watching with them.”

Perhaps the best thing about focusing on fathers is that women also respond well to ads featuring dads and find a less ‘gendered’ take on domestic responsibilities refreshing, says Ghali.

“The interesting thing about using a dad is that mums can see their role reflected in what dad does, so you’re appealing to both parents. But if you use a mum, you run the risk of saying that’s just a ‘mum brand’.”

Kingsmill Dad

How to use humour in ads with dads

Marketers must approach humour with care when they feature fathers in advertising, according to Mark Tungate, author of Branded Male: Marketing to Men. “The important thing is not to make dads look like bungling idiots,” he says. “Marketing needs to empower fathers because that’s where we feel our job is – we want to protect.”

Tungate cites Kimberly-Clark’s recent US Huggies ad as a key example of what not to do to endear yourself to fathers. Huggies’ Dad Test campaign featured an unflattering portrayal of five dads caring for their babies for five days, with the premise that if Huggies could survive five days with the somewhat idiotic dads, then they could survive anything. The advert was widely criticised online and Kimberly-Clark decided to pull it.

Allied Bakeries director of brands Will Ghali agrees that finding the right balance has been important to its Kingsmill campaign (pictured above). He says: “It’s not slapstick humour, and there’s not a big punchline belly laugh. It’s more of a wry smile. Dad is coping with the situation in a humorous way.”

In one of the Kingsmill spots, the younger son complains that his father isn’t putting the ingredients in the sandwich in the same order as his mother would, so his dad turns the sandwich upside down – something that both father and son find quite amusing.

In the ad for Kingsmill Pockets, the dad finds his teenage daughter making a sandwich after sneaking home late at night. Fielding his exasperated cries of ‘What time do you call this?’, she distracts him by talking about her sandwich.

“She gets one over on dad,” says Ghali. “It’s an amusing situation, but dad isn’t the butt of the joke. She’s got him wrapped around her little finger.

“The role of a parent is now more of a partnership and a friendship, therefore having a laugh with the kids is important.”