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March 23rd, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Kimberly-Clark, maker of Huggies diapers has changed its latest ad campaign that brought a firestorm of protest from fathers’ rights advocates.  Here’s one article on the switch (The Good Men Project, 3/14/12).  And here’s another (8bitdad, 3/13/12).

I wrote a piece about the outrageously anti-father ad campaign here.

The ads claimed to be putting Huggies diapers “to the ultimate test – dads.”  Exactly how dads would go about testing diapers was never made clear, but the first ad in the series recycled the usual false notions peddled by popular culture – that fathers are unfamiliar with childcare and bad at it. 

So it was no surprise that fathers everywhere came down on Kimberly-Clark like a ton of bricks.  The protest included an online petition that garnered well over 1,000 signatures.

And, to Kimberly-Clark’s credit, it listened to the protesters and changed the ads.  Now the voice-over tells us that dads are putting Huggies to the ultimate test, not that dads are the ultimate test.

The bottom line is that fathers and fathers groups were effective at bringing pressure to bear on a major national corporation.  We got their attention with facts and reasoned arguments stated in (for the most part) passionate but calm voices.  And we altered popular culture for the better in doing so.  It’s a small victory, but one that can be replicated.

Now, admittedly, what Kimberly-Clark changed was the voice-over, i.e. the easy part.  Their visual images remain the same, which, in this case, is acceptable, because most of those images weren’t offensive.  But what happens when we take on, for example, a television commercial depicting violence against men as acceptable?  That won’t be fixed with new voice-over.  We’ll be asking them to take down an ad that they’ve spent millions to produce.  That will mean millions down the drain to the company that paid for the ad.  It won’t be so easy then, I promise.

The reasons this victory is important are detailed in the GMP article, with one important exception.  It’s the point I made in my first piece.  Many works of fiction have a villain; indeed, fiction couldn’t exist if its writers, directors, etc. were confined to positive images, characters, etc.  So merely portraying a character in a negative light doesn’t qualify a piece as sexist, racist, anti-semitic, etc.

What does that is the negative portrayal’s connection to some underlying inequality, oppression, etc.  That is, by itself, unflattering images are just that, but they become pernicious if they tend to promote some actual inequality outside the fictional context.

And that of course is exactly what the Huggies ad campaign did.  Fathers are in no way treated equally in American society or jurisprudence.  Family courts routinely act to separate fathers from their children in a wide variety of ways, from custody orders, to the failure to enforce visitation, to TROs issued on little or no evidence, to paternity fraud, to cutting the father out of the adoption loop, to the refusal of CPS to contact the father when taking a child from its mother, and more.

By depicting fathers as at best semi-competent at childcare, the Huggies ad campaign abetted the notion that fathers shouldn’t have equal access to children post-divorce.  After all, why would a judge give equal custody to a father if he/she believes the father to be a lousy caregiver?

In the United States, some 35% of fathers have no contact with their children post-divorce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  The Huggies ad campaign promoted the view of fathers that results in exactly that radically destructive condition of the American family.  As such it was indefensible and should have been changed.  To Kimberly-Clark’s credit, it was.

By the way, Zach Rosenberg at 8bitdad tells me that they’ve got Lysol in their sights next.  It seems that Lysol has 163 mentions of mothers and moms on their site, but only 3 for fathers and dads.

And the beat goes on…

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