Does The Buying Power of Dads Really Matter?

Recently several articles dealing with the role of today’s modern father and how marketers should view them popped up in my news feed. As a longtime dad blogger with a background in marketing and experience working with major brands, I have a keen interest in such information. One of the reasons I blog is to help collectively reinforce a positive image of fatherhood, and in a sense, the way marketers represent dads in their campaigns can serve as a gauge of success in regards to this.  Sometimes brands get it, and sometimes they don’t. Often the difference is the reality verses perception.

The reality, it seems, is that men place a higher value on their involvement as fathers over other more traditional functions. According to Boston College’s 2011 The New Dad Report, when it came to defining what it meant to be good father, men prioritized providing emotional support, being present, and being a teacher well above other aspects such as providing discipline and financial security.  This, of course, is a big shift from the days when being a good father was measured by merely bringing home the bacon. So too is the amount of time fathers spend with their children, a metric a Pew Study discovered has tripled since 1965.

Based on these and other findings we know fathers are more involved. What then are marketers to make of this? A number of brands to include DoveSubaru, and Tide have gotten behind this movement by introducing campaigns involving dads. However, is the hype surrounding dads justified? Not necessarily says Stephanie Azzarone, founder of Child’s Play Communications and blogger at Mom Market Trends.

In a joint survey of 1,250 couples conducted in conjunction with the independent research company, the NDP Group, Azzarone concluded that moms (80%) are still the dominate decision maker when it comes to household purchase decisions. The results did indicate that dad’s influence was increasing when making joint decisions, but as the sole (keyword sole) influencer the numbers were miniscule. Further findings showed that depending on the product, purchase decisions still fell along traditional lines with men leading the way in products related to home repair, lawn and garden, autos, and tech while women comprised the majority in areas such as toys and children’s clothes among others.

On the surface the outcome of this survey may appear to discount the dad’s role in household purchase decisions; however, this was not the intent. Instead, it was merely attempting to get a general idea of how much of a sole influence dads have and in what areas, and then compare this to what their spouses think. Ultimately, Azzarone’s goal was to determine whether dads really are the “new, new thing” and then to suggest where marketers should be spending their dollars based on the research’s outcomes.

Do these findings, though, diminish the need for brands to consider dads when marketing what would be considered traditional mom-centric products? In a word, no. As noted earlier fathers are definitely more involved in their children’s upbringing, and that no doubt means some overlap when it comes to related purchase decisions. But there’s another reason as well.

In a recent report released by the Creative Artists Agency’s Intelligence Group, researchers found that the newer generation of Americans is not so concerned about adhering to traditional gender roles. 62% of those questioned said they felt no need to conform to society’s ideas of how men and women are defined. For marketers this means brands will need to relook at the message they are sending when trying to reach fathers. Unfortunately, however, this has not happened yet in the minds of those men who took part in the survey as two-thirds believed fathers were poorly depicted and 36% thought marketers lacked an understanding of today’s man.

Such perceptions mean companies still have a lot of ground to make up. Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer at The Intelligence Group, put it best when she stated that if brands want to connect with dads they need to show fathers as “real, three-dimensional people, instead of bozos who are too incompetent to cook breakfast.”
Will dads attain the level of purchasing power moms have? I don’t think so, but it all may be a moot point in the very near future. As Gutfreund rightly says, "People are not numbers; they have complicated personal positioning, and brands cannot assume that someone is a type in a way that they used to." In other words, dads matter.

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