Movies, shows and ads routinely get modern fatherhood wrong. Will Disney Dads lead the charge for change?
Let’s face it, if you haven’t seen the latest Star Wars film yet, you’re almost certain to be dragged along to the local multiplex in the Christmas holidays, whether you like it or not.
Actually, you probably will like it. The reviews have been resoundingly positive. The return of Luke Skywalker has been a roaring success. As Christmas holiday entertainment goes, it all sounds like a bit of a winner.
And Luke’s return also serves to remind us of one of the most dysfunctional father/child relationships in cinematic history. Luke’s relationship with his old pop, ‘cuddly’ Darth Vader, is nothing if not explosive. For all his dark menace, Darth is, for most of the franchise, the very image of a deadbeat dad.
Disney ditching the dark side?
So it is with impeccable timing that Disney, owner of the Star Wars’ franchise, has vowed to drop its use of tired old dad stereotypes in its movies, shows and ads. The decision comes after the company conducted research in Europe showing that (surprise surprise) dads don’t see themselves in the way they are routinely portrayed in the media.
And how are they portrayed? We’ve covered this topic before in DaddiLfe, revealing that portrayals of dads in the media often take two basic forms. Dads are stupid, or dads are bad.
You know the kind of thing. Dad is slumped on the sofa, dribbling beer, watching sports on TV while his feral children run riot. Or even more commonly, dad tries to help out at home but is too incompetent to use the can opener or switch the dishwasher on.
Dads are actually good – and can do stuff!
Needless to say, dads don’t agree with the idea that their predominant character trait is either incompetence or evil. Disney engaged with 160 European dads and found that, on the contrary, modern dads were driven by a desire to bond with their children, and to protect, entertain and provide for them.
“We’ve got to a position where we have realised the role of dads is really important and probably something that we needed to do a deeper dive into,” Disney’s UK chief marketing officer Anna Hill told The Drum.
It’s not the first piece of research to discover that nugget of wisdom (also known as the bleedin’ obvious). A study of 1,100 dads by Saatchi and Saatchi, for example, found that marketers were out of touch with the realities of modern family life, and that the depictions of dads in popular media didn’t reflect reality.
Does Disney (et al) love dads now?
It would be nice to think, in this season of goodwill to all men (and dads), that any move to represent dads in a fairer and more positive light was motivated by a desire to do the right thing.
But of course the chief motivation is the kerching of the cash till. Disney realised that many kids are introduced to its major franchises – like Star Wars and Marvel – “through disney dads”.
Separate data from IPG Mediabrands’ Initiative suggested that men become more receptive to brand messages when they become dads.
In other words, Disney – along with other major brands – has realised that dads are exceptionally important to the bottom line. With that in mind, they have decided to understand modern fatherhood a bit more, and stereotype it a bit less. Keeping dads on side is, in a nutshell, a commercially smart move.
Well, at least it’s a move, whatever the motivation. And don’t get us wrong here. Popular culture would be considerably poorer without Darth Vader and Homer Simpson. But a little balance in the portrayal of dads wouldn’t go amiss.