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A Super Bowl Ad You’re Either Going to Love or Hate

Susan E. Wills - published on 01/27/15

Who knew soap could be so controversial?

Last year’s Super Bowl was the most watched event in the history of TV with an average of 112.2 million  fans watching the game at any time. Correction: They weren’t actually watching the game during most of the 210-minute (give or take) broadcast. Pro football games feature a measly 11-13 minutes of playing time (snap to ref’s whistle calling the play dead). The other three hours are filled with instant replays, videos of players milling around, the half-time show (or updates from other games), and, of course, the ads. Lots of ads.

The Super Bowl of football also happens to be the Super Bowl of ads. “Several studies,” according to an article in Forbes, “have proven that 50% of the Super Bowl audience tunes in just to watch the ads.” And boy do they get their money’s worth!

Last year advertisers shelled out $4 million for a 30-second spot and $8 million for 60 seconds of air time, and that doesn’t include production costs upwards of $1 million. It’s a high-stakes game because ads are critically ranked and rebroadcast by the media, talked about for weeks, extolled or mercilessly trashed. TIME, for example, provided a comprehensive (and snarky) critique of last year’s offerings. There were precious few “A”s. Imagine being the Creative Genius who has to face his client after the ad that cost $10 million to produce and run earned a spot among the “worst Super Bowl ads.” People care about this stuff: There are 23 million Google search results for the “worst Super Bowl ad of all time.” These fails can be epic and career-changing. Or they can bring immense goodwill to the product, which can boost sales and create loyal customers for years. 

Dove’s line of men’s care products may be taking a risk this year. Their theme is “Dove men care” and this year’s entry is “Real Strength” — “What makes a man stronger? Showing that he cares.” It may be the only commercial in which only one word (plus variations) is said, about 19 times (Dada, Daddy, Dad-e-e-e-e, Dad, Da-a-a-a-a-ad!). Two dozen scenes show kids calling their dads to the rescue, or dads playing with them, consoling them, caring for them and coming home to them. There’s a very tenuous product tie-in, but the images and message — Dads Matter — will melt the hearts of a large segment of the audience. 

While paying tribute to the dads who are watching the Super Bowl (one hopes, with their kids), it’s a touching and timeless reminder of what our dads mean (or meant) to us — if they were reasonably good men — and, for the wives/moms in the audience, it may be a reminder to be thankful for their husband’s role in raising good kids. In the 1950s, just about everyone would have loved the ad, although the idea of men’s shower gel and skin-softening products might have creeped out much of the public. But today, it’s a gutsy move, because not everyone can relate to what are supposed to be common events in everyone’s life. 

One in three children today are growing up in a household where their biological father is absent. In 1960, fewer than one in nine were. By age 17, only 45 percent of children will “have grown up in an intact married family,” that is, with both biological parents who are married to each other. This means, of course, that 55 percent of children in the US are growing up with parents who have rejected each other (and them) before or after the child’s birth.

How does the absence of a dad impact children? The average income for married couples with children is $80,000. For single mothers, it is $24,000. In 2011, only 11 percent of married couple families with children were living in poverty,
compared to almost 48 percent of female headed households. But it’s not just money that dads contribute to their family.

Many sites offer sobering statistics on the difficulties faced by children growing up without a father: the National Fatherhood Initiative, the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, the National Center for Fathering and Growing Up Without a Father are just a few. Here’s just a sample of the categories of risks to children growing up in fatherless homes:

1. They are more likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems 80 percent of children with behavioral disorders live in homes with absent fathers, 20 times the average.
2. They have almost twice the risk of dying as infants
3. They are more likely to go to prison
39 percent of incarcerated men and over half of incarcerated women grew up in a female-headed family. 
4. They are more likely to commit crime — 85 percent of young males in correctional facilities have an absent dad.
5. They are twice as likely to become sexually active at an early age. 
6. Teen girls are seven times more likely to become pregnant during adolescence

7. If their single parent has a live-in partner, they suffer six times more neglect and over ten times more abuse than children living with married biological parents. Preschoolers not living with both parents are 40 times more likely to suffer sexual abuse.
8. They are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs 
75 percent of youth in drug treatment programs live in a fatherless home.
9. They are twice as likely to suffer from obesity.
10. They are twice as likely to drop out of school 71 percent of high school drop outs are from fatherless homes.

It’s reasonable to assume that a large segment of the Super Bowl audience will consist of the following: (1) people who feel rejected by their dads through divorce or other abandonment; (2) men who are not living with or caring for their child(ren) and the mother of their child(ren); (3) never married or divorced women who have been abandoned by the father of their child(ren); and (4) fathers who live with their wife and kids but spend little time with their children.

An ad like Dove’s may have a positive effect on absent and neglectful dads, getting them to think about their role and taking steps to be better fathers (after making them feel guilt and remorse). But is it not likely to cause painful memories and feelings for those with absent or deeply flawed dads? And how will a woman who’s been abandoned by the father of her children feel, watching what her kids are missing, and possibly blaming herself?

Will Dove hit a raw nerve, given the brokenness of the American family? Will aging radical feminists call for a boycott because Dove’s ad contradicts the central premise that men are as superfluous to women as bicycles are to fish and that marriage is a prison? We haven’t long to wait to find out.    

Susan Willsis a senior writer for Aleteia’s English language edition.

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