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 Because the focus on moms reinforces outdated stereotypes.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 Whenever anyone fails to distinguish between the two, and it happens often, it reinforces outdated stereotypes that mothers are the only ones who can or should do the work of caring for family and the work itself disappears into the role and can’t be seen or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.

~ Kristin




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2 Responses to 4 Reasons to Hate Procter & Gamble’s Olympic Ads

  1. Great post.

    On my blog I’ve already made my opinion known on point #3 and the noise that follows these kinds of ads (http://goo.gl/iWrEE) so I won’t reiterate it here.

    But I definitely agree with the problems inherent in limiting women to just one role, as mothers, and pretending they aren’t fully-rounded people in their own right, that have a right to a life outside of parenthood. And the whole idea of limiting parenting to one gender is just absurd.

    I spend a fair amount of time trying not to limit my young son to the toys proscribed to his gender, but it’s easy to forget that it’s not just children that can fall prey to stereotypes. There are plenty of women out there that don’t have kids and aren’t mothers that are just as fulfilled as ones that do, just as there are plenty of Stay-at-home-dads that don’t need careers to be happy and productive.

    It can definitely get frustrating when the change you see all around you isn’t reflected in the media, especially during the Olympics when the opportunity to really make a difference is wasted for capricious reasons. Like you wrote above, what’s the arm in celebrating both parents?

    But I’ll stop there, so as not be to a hypocrite and make my entire blog post a farce! 😉

  2. Very well said, Kristen. You know where I stand as I posted a post with similar sentiments, though I think you illuminated them in better detail than I did. PLUS, you have greater credibility being a mom who feels this way.

    We hit this topic on my radio show today and, as you well know having been there, at #DadChat tonight. I invited Procter & Gamble and, sadly, they didn’t show though they did take the time to respond in a tweet in a defensive way that had some merit. BUT, the bigger picture is they are ignoring the size of the blowback. I hope they wise up!