Are Dads the “New Black”?

Just as navy (then pink, then who knows what) became “the new black” of the fashion world, dads are becoming the HOT NEW THING in marketing to parents. Survey after survey indicates that the man of the house is taking on more responsibility for parenting and household chores. Last week, I participated in a roundtable on marketing to parents hosted by PRWeek, the public relations industry publication – and much of the conversation turned to reaching out to dads.

The only problem?

All that research reporting the evolution of dad’s role has been done with…dads. We suspected that if we asked moms some of the same questions about their partners’ role, the answers might be different.
So we did. And they were.

Full disclosure: This was a relatively small, preliminary survey, with just over 200 responses from around the U.S. Nevertheless, the findings gave us pause, at least for the moment. Asked who in their household had prime responsibility for household purchasing decisions, 90% of those surveyed said that mom did.

Some other key findings:

  • The household purchasing categories for which dads are entirely responsible are what might be considered traditionally “male”: automobiles (including choice, maintenance and repairs), 67%, technology (including TV, computers and phones), 44% and insurance, 40%. Once you talk about categories such as food and household cleaning supplies, the numbers drop dramatically – down to single digits.
  • Change the question from entirely to primarily responsible, and the answers shift by only a few percentage points.
  • Interestingly, in both cases, dads’ responsibility – entirely or primarily – for children’s purchases such as clothes or toys was at the bottom of all the categories, ranging from 1-5%.
  • When it came to responsibility for activities, rather than purchases, the trend was similar. Home repairs were, by far, the activity for which most dads had more responsibility than moms, at 83%, with bill paying the next category at 33%.
  • Bottom of the list of categories for which dads had more responsibility than moms in the household? Child care, at the low, low rate of….1.5%.
  • While other surveys have clearly said that dads are taking on more responsibility for food shopping and cooking, according to our research they were primarily responsible for those areas less than 7% of the time.
  • Importantly, however, while not primarily responsible, dads are equally responsible to moms for some key activities: according to moms, 30% of dads were equally responsible for childcare, 22% for food shopping and 20% for cooking.
  • In contrast, in other studies I have seen, 40-50% of dads themselves have said they are equally or primarily responsible for childcare, food shopping and cooking.

So, the bad news, based on this preliminary study, is that dads largely remain primarily responsible for what they have always been responsible for – “guy stuff” – and are particularly uninvolved when it comes to shopping for the kids. The good news is that about 20% of dads are taking on equal responsibility for household activities such as food shopping and cooking.

In fact, we have no doubt that dads are more involved with child care and household chores now than a generation ago. We even introduced a Digital Dads program several years back, and activate it when we feel it makes sense for a particular type of client.

The question remains, to what degree are dads involved.

Before companies start shifting too many of their marketing dollars, more research is needed to clarify how the purchasing decisions are being divided, what products dads are entirely, primarily or equally responsible for and whether companies who target parents should be spending their money on mom, dad or both.