Monday, 30 July 2012

An open letter to Proctor and Gamble

Hi Guys,
How’s it going?  Enjoying the Olympics?  I think it’s very noble of you to support the International Olympic Committee’s goal of “building a better world through sport”.  That was your reason for getting involved as an Olympic sponsor for the first time, right?  I mean, your decision couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with the $500 million you’ll rake in through extra sales this year alone on the back of that sponsorship, could it?

Most of this is built on your “Thank you mum” campaign which tells us you are a “proud sponsor of mums” and which also brings me to my point:  What about dads?  You’ll have to forgive me, but as a single parent of two little girls it rather pisses me off that so many people’s default opinion seems to be that as a man, my involvement in their lives must be minimal (I assure you it’s anything but) yet your adverts perpetuate that lazy stereotype.

Paula Radcliffe has been one of the stars of your campaign in this country (I know you’re using the same playbook all over the world).  Unfortunately she’s had to withdraw from this Olympics due to injury but she was always an ironic choice for you.  Why?  Well because her father Peter has played a key part in her success.  It was by joining him on his marathon-training runs that she became involved in the sport in the first place and he went on to chair the athletics club of which she is a member.

Victoria Pendleton’s mum Pauline also features in your campaign.  Predictably there’s no mention of her dad Max though, despite the fact it was his interest in cycling which influenced Victoria when she was a youngster.  He used to take her out training, riding ahead of her and making her catch him up thereby laying the foundations which helped her win gold in Beijing four years ago.

I take nothing a way from Pendleton’s and Radcliffe’s mums but can you please explain to me why their dads are not also worthy of your pride and sponsorship?  Can you see how the reality is so at odds with and so undermines your out-dated narrative of mums being the only ones to raise families and therefore Olympians?  Can you understand how the exclusion of these dads from your adverts only serves to reinforce the stereotype that allows people to assume I have such a small role in my daughters’ lives?

After she won bronze in the 400m freestyle yesterday, Rebecca Adlington thanked her whole family for being supportive and said that her dad cries more than her mum.  Blimey.  Could that be because, amazingly enough, us fathers can invest as much time and emotion in our children as their mothers?  Talking of swimming, let’s not forget Adlington’s interviewer: Sharron Davies, a silver medallist in Moscow.  I bet you can guess where I’m going with this but who do you think was her coach?  Yup, you guessed it: her dad, Terry.

I could go on and on listing fathers who’ve been heavily involved in raising, inspiring and supporting their Olympian children but we’d all get a bit bored, so let me finish with the IOC’s Sportsman of the Century the shy, humble Carl Lewis.  His parents ran an athletics club in his home city of Birmingham, Alabama which proved highly influential on both him and his sister Carol (who won long jump bronze at the 1983 World Athletics Championships).  But here’s the thing, who was Lewis’ first coach?  His dad, William.

(Incidentally, don’t worry, I know the National Lottery has pulled the same shit with their recent “Life Changing” advert – young girl running down beach becomes young woman dancing with man.  Man-in-question then seems to disappear (having got woman pregnant) leaving woman to raise daughter and watch with pride as daughter wins Olympic gold in running.  All thanks to mum and Lottery funding but not dad of course.  Dear Camelot, I refer you to my previous comments.)

Yet by dismissing the role fathers have to play in families you aren’t just perpetuating the stereotype that men aren’t really important to the upbringing of children you’re also supporting the idea that they don’t need to be; that childcare, washing clothes, washing dishes, ironing and cleaning are what wives/mothers/women are for.  Let’s take your current campaign for Fairy washing up liquid which tells us that: “It takes lots of dishes and lots of washing up for mum to build an athlete.”

You’ll have to forgive me again here, but are you guys for fucking real?  Who does your advertising; Sterling Cooper?  I know we’re in the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and there’s a vogue for retro branding but that doesn’t mean you have to employ attitudes from the 1950s as well.  All that your Fairy advert does is reinforce the idea that domestic chores are the sole responsibility of women, something which has been used to hold that section of society back for generations and continues to restrict women’s opportunities in the workplace.

They don't make 'em like they used to! Oh, hang on...
Finally we have an Olympics where every country has female competitors in their team and women are allowed to compete in every event (boxing being the one they weren’t able to up until now).  In his opening ceremony speech IOC president Jacques Rogge called this a “major boost for gender equality”, yet in your version of reality we get gender inequality - the dutiful mother stuck in a domestic prison doing all the feminine stuff like cooking and cleaning so her son can concentrate on the manly pursuit of becoming a top-class athlete.  But hey, at least the little lady can buy ‘her’ Fairy in a limited-edition gold bottle.  How very lucky of her and how very fucking patronising of you.

I know that one of the basic rules of advertising is that you shouldn’t try and appeal to everyone because broad generalisations get through to no one but would you run a campaign with the tagline “proud sponsor of men” or “proud sponsor of heterosexuals” or “proud sponsor of white people”?  Maybe you would, but I somehow doubt it and we all know why.

Both fathers and mothers from your target market (ie the world) will be watching the Olympics with hope, nervousness but most of all pride as their children compete.  Isn't that the time when generalisations are OK and you should become the proud sponsor of parents or, perhaps, families not just mums?  And while we’re at it, isn’t it also time to dispense with the tiresome out-dated stereotypes?

Bla, bla, etc, etc

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A bit late to comment but......fucking spot on my friend. I won't go into my life story here but suffice to say I get where you're coming from. If anyone from P & G actually bothers to read this, take the hint. Giving birth does not make the sun shine out of your arse. If you want to see how it should be done, watch the Volkswagen advert where the dad us the focus of his daughter's life and gets her a car at the end. Reduced my own daughter to tears. Needless to say, it's run was pulled after lobbying from the fascists who run Mumsnet. Too late. It's out there and on Youtube. It's message was seen and heard. Keep up the fight my friend. I am.