New Study: Men Aren’t Happy about How They’re Portrayed in Ads

Kansas City, KA–“Buying into corporate America”s depiction of men, and dads in particular, one would be pretty sure they”re mostly lazy, dense dimwits with whom only Homer Simpson could bond.

“Clearly, at least as portrayed in many TV ads, most dads wouldn”t be loved, or even liked, by their wives or kids –– except when they want a withdrawal from his wallet.

“But some marketers are starting to see the light. Take Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc., which after talking to real people has expanded its selection of Father”s Day cards depicting dads in more loving and appreciated ways.

“One new card shows a dad bending over, tying his son”s shoe while he leans on dad for support. ‘A man is loved not for how tall he stands, but for how often he bends to help, comfort, and teach’…

“‘In the past, Father”s Day was sort of ‘they play golf and take out the trash” — this is just an attempt really to recognize what they do and being affectionate without making fun of them,’ said Hallmark spokeswoman Deidre Parkes.

“Glenn Sacks, a sometimes controversial commentator focused on men”s issues, applauds Hallmark for its efforts, and says others, including AT&T, Pampers and Cheerios, have also made strides in their depiction of men.

“Sacks has mounted a number of crusades, including one against a Verizon commercial in which a wife berates her husband to quit bothering their daughter, who”s doing homework, telling him to ‘go wash the dog.’

“Sacks said he thinks men have become the butt of marketing jokes because it”s a cheap, easy way out for companies and their ad agencies.

“‘Marketers have found it”s a lot easier to portray men as foolish,’ Sacks said.

“If marketers depicted women as brainless bimbos, he said, there would be hell to pay.”

Business reporter Jennifer Mann did a nice piece today on the way men are depicted in advertising–No more bumbling Homer: Marketers are reframing dad ads (Kansas City Star, 6/13/08). She reports on an interesting new study which supports what we’ve been saying all along–men and fathers do care how they’re portrayed on TV. Mann writes:

Ad agency Sullivan Higdon & Sink this week released the results of a survey asking more than 300 fathers how they”re depicted in the media.

Titled, “Note to marketers: Dad is disappointed in you,’ 75 percent of men couldn”t think of even one commercial that spoke to them with any relevance. Also, more than half said the way dads are portrayed in media and pop culture is out of touch with reality.

John January, Sullivan”s director of brand voice and the father of three young children, said he personally finds media depictions of men “beyond frustrating.’

He sorts the offensive ads into several categories: ones that depict men as oversexed morons with more money than brains; ones where nobody cares about dad until he shows up with something they want; and ones in which men are so utterly inept, they can”t even go out and buy cat food.

“Men are telling us that being a good dad is important to them, and this notion of a detached guy separate from the family and who is either ignored or reviled, that”s not a message that”s going to resonate with the dads we talked to,’ January said.

According to the survey, 63 percent spend more time with their kids than their fathers did, but they also feel pressure from a financial and work perspective.

“Their own dads weren”t expected to go to every soccer game, every recital, but these guys are expected to, and they expect it of themselves,’ January said. “These guys aren”t saps — they want to see their real lives reflected by (advertisers).’

One of the points I made to Mann is that commercials which portray fathers being humiliated in front of their children are the ones which really anger men. That was the point of our Campaign Against Anti-Father Verizon Commercial, and I was actually surprised at the fury we set off with that campaign. Mann wrote:

“In the [recent home improvement retailer] ad, the couple complete a home improvement project, and the husband is relieved it”s over — until the wife, arms crossed and eyes rolling, tells him to think again. By the end of the TV spot, the couple”s young daughter is mimicking mom.

“Those are the ones that really get people worked up,’ Sacks said.

But Sacks said he thinks that as a society, we”ve reached the tipping point.

In recent months, he said, he and others involved in organizations such as, which says it promotes positive images of men in the media, have made progress with some large advertising agencies that he declined to name.

“I”ve been a little surprised at the candor in some of these meetings. One said they do these things because they tend to work,’ Sacks said.

“So what”s the solution? They were a little less forthcoming about the solution.

“If you look at some of the ads from the golden age of advertising, the ads are more thoughtful, creative and intelligent. But it takes time and talent to develop those.’

The organization is run by Richard Smaglick, who does excellent work on the problems with men in advertising. In April, he and I co-authored a column on the subject for Advertising Age–see Attention Ad Execs: Media Criticism of Anti-Male Ads Is Mounting (4/14/08).

To write a Letter to the Editor about anti-male advertising and Mann’s piece No more bumbling Homer: Marketers are reframing dad ads (Kansas City Star, 6/13/08), write to

To comment directly on the piece, click here.

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