I’m a sucker for the stories behind the Olympic athletes, long years of hard work, overcoming heartbreaking setbacks, financial sacrifice, finally reaching the medal stand. Doesn’t take much to choke me up. So all of the videos and commercials in the Proctor & Gamble Olympic ad campaign, “Thank You Mom” pretty much reduce me to tears.
Yet I hate the entire campaign. Why? Because the focus on moms reinforces outdated stereotypes.
The P&G videos started with one for Mother’s Day that shows mothers in different countries getting their children ready for the day and ready for the Olympics.
The video closes with the line
“The hardest job in the world is the best job in the world.”
Procter & Gamble. Proud Sponsor of Moms.
The commercials playing now and the online video stories of athletes and their mothers continue the focus on the self-sacrificing mother in each story.
They are beautifully told stories, but despite my teary eyes, I have four reasons for hating them.
1. By talking about motherhood as a job or a profession, and focusing solely on mothers, the whole campaign confuses mother (the role and the relationship) with family work (the activities necessary to care for children and family.) Whenever anyone fails to distinguish between the two, and it happens often, it reinforces outdated stereotypes that mothers are the only ones who can or should do the work of caring for family and the work itself disappears into the role and can’t be seen or shared.
2. The videos also exploit the ideal of “mother” as supremely self-sacrificing, tying it to the host of sacrifices these athletes make to be Olympians. While the reward for the athletes is a medal, for moms the message is we should be willing to give up and go through anything and the love of our kids is the only reward we should need. This ideal that mothers are expected to put others first always and completely makes it difficult for women to craft whole lives that include caring and their own interests and ambitions without being perceived as “bad moms.”
3. And where are the fathers? Frankly, this campaign insults fathers without even mentioning them. The flip side of implying that women are responsible for raising children and naturally better at it, is that fathers don’t share responsibility and aren’t very good at it. Hard for me to believe there aren’t any fathers in any of these athletes’ lives who drove them to practice, coached their teams, made dinners, and generally did the work of parenting. And is P&G assuming dads don’t buy Charmin, Duracell, Pampers and Tide? In our house, my husband does the shopping so insulting him may not be the best marketing strategy.
4. Finally, I hate the campaign because its simplistic and sentimental “Proud Sponsor of Moms” mantra oversimplifies these touching, complex stories and the light the videos shed on other human issues like immigration, poverty, and girls in developing countries. Take Henry Cejudo, born to an illegal immigrant who couldn’t watch him at the 2008 Olympics because of her citizenship status. Or Kavita Raut, born in India, who began running barefoot in a rural area where girls are usually married by 15 or 16.
Listen, I get it, I’m sure the market research says that women buy Procter & Gamble products. The campaign has likely had the impact they wanted; it has 31,000 followers on Twitter and the original YouTube video has over 5 million views. But that’s precisely what makes me so mad. Given this huge opportunity, this huge platform, P&G chose to reinforce and take advantage of old stereotypes rather than celebrate the new ways families are sharing the work of raising kids.
What’s to lose by focusing on parents? Why alienate half your target market? It’s not like moms are going to be insulted if the stories include fathers and grandparents and anyone else who cared for one of these athletes. And I can tell you that judging by my Facebook conversations, plenty of Millennial and Gen X mothers and fathers are insulted by the focus on and over-sentimentalizing of moms to the exclusion of fathers. We’re out here raising kids together and the world around us is still operating as if we were in the 1950’s.
We may be suckers for the stories, but we’re not being duped by the way P&G is trotting out antiquated stereotypes to get us to buy their stuff.
- Share this post on Facebook and on Twitter. On Twitter be sure to mention @ProcterGamble and use a #PGads hashtag. (I am intentionally avoiding the use of their @thankyoumom handle and #thankyoumom hashtag because I don’t want to repeat those phrases!)
- Post a comment on P&G’s Facebook page for this ad campaign.
- Read and share Estelle Erasmus Sobel’s post from back in May when the original video aired. “Procter & Gamble Says Mom is the Hardest Job in the World.”
- Read and share this post from NYC Dads Group Dear Procter & Gamble: “Thank you Mom!” BUT “What about DAD?”
- Read and share this post from Bruce Sallan, of A Dad’s Point of View. P&G, Procter and Gamble, IGNORE Dads in Their Olympics Commercials.
- If you see one of these ads while you are watching with your family, do what my friend Yvonne does. “Whenever they say “proud sponsor of moms” I would add, “…and dads.”
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