Whereas gender studies show that boundaries between female and male genders are increasingly blurred in our post-modern era, maternal and paternal roles are also tending to blur. What we are seeing is the emergence of a new social norm, being “a father and a mother” combined. This is the conclusion of a four year-long research project focusing on single fathers . “You don’t need to be a woman to be a good mother!” declares one of the research subjects. But do advertisers, brands and marketers take this new social norm properly into account? Are single fathers considered as a new market segment? How to better understand and satisfy single-fathers families?
The marketplace plays a role in the socialisation of the paternal role. Single fathers take advantage of shopping and consumption in general to build new relationships with their children and even sometimes to re-discover them. After getting separated from their wives, these fathers acquire the image of a “new dad”, by spending time on leisure and sport activities with their children.
Consumption provides a mean for these fathers to express their affection towards their children. When buying something for their children, fathers choose high-quality brands, even when budgets are tight. Their consumption therefore reflects a desire to take care of their children despite the limitations of their budget. Consumption becomes an “act of love” for their children.
Greater attention should be paid by marketers to the emotional ties that fathers create with their children through the consumption of products and services. Such emotional relationships should not be viewed exclusively through a mother-child dyad lens, as it is the case for the large majority of ads. The evolution in the definition of paternity highlighted by another part of the same research  does not seem to be reflected by the marketplace or companies’ advertising campaigns. The presence of fathers in the domestic sphere should therefore be showcased by advertisers and afforded greater weight. According to a survey conducted by “Dove” during the launch of the “Dove Men+Care” sub-brand, whereas over three quarters of fathers consider themselves responsible for the emotional well-being of their children, only 20% of these fathers consider this emotional dimension of their paternal role to be reflected by media and advertising. We therefore recommend advertisers to “dare” to communicate with these “nurturing fathers” and to better consider their caring and emotional investment in their families, by representing the father-child dyad in frameworks that avoid casting fathers in the stereotypical roles of “hero” or “saviour”.
WHAT MEN WANT: TO SAVE TIME AND IMPROVE THEIR DOMESTIC SKILLS
Companies, particularly retailers, have an important role to play in facilitating the acculturation of fathers in the domestic sphere. Although time-saving is one of the main criteria considered by fathers in making their purchases, it seems to be even more of a priority for single fathers, and notably for all the three types of single father identified in our research. When it comes to family purchasing, several marketing studies (Ahuja, Capella & Taylor, 2001; Kanner, 2004; Thiagarajan et al., 2007), indicate that there is no significant difference in terms of consumption behaviour between single mothers and mothers who are part of a traditional family. Nevertheless, our research shows that single fathers’ consumption habits change significantly after separation. Online or click-and-collect food shopping seems to be one of the solutions used by single fathers to better organise their schedules and optimise the time spent on everyday family shopping. To better satisfy the needs of this fast-expanding consumer segment, retailers should focus their communication on the time that these fathers can save on household duties. In the food retailing sector, this could mean proposing simple and easy-to-cook recipes along with suggesting products to buy. Some of the interviewed single fathers even admitted that they rely on their female entourage for this purpose.
For some tasks, like cooking, house-hold chores and child-caring, retailers and marketers can improve fathers’ skills by organizing workshops or tutorials targeting these customers segment. Although large retailers tended to develop this type of initiative in recent years, the targeting of customers is still stereotyped. For example, men still constitute the majority of participants in tutorials organised by DIY or gardening companies such as Leroy Merlin, Ikea or Castorama. Other tutorials focused on cooking, make-up or cosmetics, organised by companies such as Carrefour or Séphora, attract more women than men, with the presence of men remaining almost negligible. This shows that companies have failed to adapt their strategies to the evolution of consumers’ behaviour and particularly to the entry of male consumers into areas of consumption traditionally considered as feminine. If brands claim to be the mirror of society, then what are they waiting for to put it in front of single fathers?
Authored by Mohamad Chour, Teaching Assistant, EDHEC Business School