Countering TV Commercials’ Portrayal of Dads as Incompetent

It’s common to see TV commercials portray dads as blundering and inept. Are these commercials all in good fun or could they be harmful?

It’s common to see TV commercials portray dads as blundering and inept. The following commercials for Eggo Waffles and T-Mobile are examples.

Though an uncritical perusal of these ads may provoke laughter, are they all in good fun or could they be harmful? Let’s consider this question in honor of Father’s Day. (Keep in mind, though, that men in general—not just fathers—are often portrayed in this way, so this question is relevant for all of the men in your life.)

The harm in portraying dads as incompetent

Research indicates that nearly every father who lives with his children takes an active role in their day-to-day lives (e.g., sharing meals, helping with homework, playing). These commercials are a figurative slap in the face to these dedicated men. As Christians, we are taught to honor our fathers and respectfully listen to them (Exodus 20:12 and Proverbs 23:22). In order for children to learn how to do this, we must model it. Countering the message sent by these commercials is one way to do this.

These commercials’ depiction of paternal incompetence as normal and acceptable can lead us to grow comfortable with the concept. When we see this depiction often enough, it no longer surprises or bothers us. Eventually we may even develop lower expectations for the dads in our lives.

This portrayal is especially harmful to children who live in homes without dads and who have no positive male figures in their lives. It’s quite unfortunate, but dads in advertising, on TV, and in movies may be the only father figures some children in this country have. If these sources feature dads who are blundering and inept, their young minds are left to conclude that this is what fatherhood looks like. Even children who do grow up with good dads may begin believing that this is what they can expect of dads.

In a time when our nation does have a problem with many fathers being absent from their households, is it really wise to perpetuate via advertising the stereotype of incompetent fathers? I’m not naïve enough to believe that commercials that depict dads as competent are sufficient to compel absentee fathers to return to their households. However, I think that portraying incompetence among dads as the norm can only worsen the situation.

Ways to counter the portrayal of dads as incompetent

  • Critically examine the commercials you watch. Instead of being a mindless viewer of ads, scrutinize the message sent by advertising. When you see commercials that depict dads (or others) in unflattering and inaccurate lights, remind yourself that the depiction is inaccurate. Take time to communicate your displeasure with the commercials to the companies that created them. The companies may take you very seriously. In 2012, Huggies stopped airing some ads that depicted dads as dumb and inattentive after fathers across the nation signed petitions and complained on social media about the ads.
  • Share stories about the good dads in your life and in your community. We all hear stories about deadbeat dads. Why not tell stories of dads who are present and active in their kids’ lives? Ladies, this means not complaining about your husband in front of your friends or coworkers, even if you’re really frustrated with something he did. Speak highly of him instead.
  • Encourage the dads around you. Tell the responsible, competent dads in your life that they are good at what they do and that they are valued. Don’t follow behind and supervise or “fix” their work (e.g., changing baby’s clothes after dad dresses him or her in a mismatched outfit, hovering to make sure playful wrestling doesn’t get too rough). Express your gratitude for his contributions on a regular basis.

The public’s increasing awareness of and vocal opposition to the portrayal of dads in stereotypical manners have increased the demand for commercials that are much more positive. The following commercials for Tide and Subaru are examples.

I don’t believe the companies that have portrayed dads as incompetent did so in order to intentionally harm society’s view of fathers. They are just trying to publicize the products they sell. Thus, my point here is not to promote or denounce any companies. My point is to encourage myself and others to critically view ads so we can identify detrimental messages and combat them with edifying messages.

I hope you’ll join me in rejecting the messages sent by ads that portray dads as incompetent by choosing instead to honor and express gratitude to the dads in your life.

Prior to reading this post, had you noticed commercials that portray dads as incompetent? What impact do you think these commercials have?

Shared on the following link-ups:

Weekend Wind Down, Shine Blog Hop, Coffee and Conversation, Titus 2 Tuesday, The Art of Homemaking, Motivation Monday, Titus 2sday, Welcome Home Wednesday, Empty Your Archives.


  1. I don’t think these types of commercials make or break dads. But, as you say, it’s important not to be mindless consumers of what we see on TV (or magazines, the web, etc.).
    At first I was thinking that I don’t believe the impact of these commercials is that significant, but then I realized that if mindlessly viewing ads can make us “need” the items in the ad, then why can’t they also unknowing influence our thoughts on dads? This is something to think about.
    As my sons enter their teen years, I have noticed that commercials often show teens in stereotypical ways.

    • Shannon says:

      Good point about commercials influencing us to “need” something that we didn’t need before seeing the advertising.
      I agree that teens are stereotyped in ads, too. I think most groups are stereotyped in one way or another, it’s often just more pronounced with dads.

  2. It’s good to see a few advertisers are making dads look good. I think the entertainment industry has great influence on us, even when we don’t realize it. Your points are good ones.

    • Shannon says:

      Thanks, Gail. I agree that the entertainment industry has great influence on us. It’s good to be reminded of this so we carefully choose the things to which we expose ourselves.

  3. Tv, movies and commercials are all making parents look dumb, uncapable idiots looking to their children for help, advice and wisdom. We don’t watch those kinds of shows in my home. Thanks for sharing on Titus 2 Tuesday

  4. It’s something I’ve seen, off and on, for years; the sitcoms of the 60s and 70s were disrespectful to parents in general and fathers in particular, and it would seem to me that commercials followed when ad agencies saw that the paradigm was successful, and they didn’t risk a backlash.

    It may go farther back than that; Dick Van Dyke was a lovable bumbler, and in “I Love Lucy” the female characters, though sometimes flighty, were far more grounded in respect than the emotionally labile Ricky and the sour Fred.

    It’s one reason I enjoy the Kendrick brothers’ films (Courageous, Facing The Giants) so much; families are not perfect, but parents are not figures of fun, either.

    And I am here for Coffee and Conversation.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Andrew,
      Those are very insightful observations! All the more reason to be very careful what we watch. We enjoy the Kendrick brothers’ films, too.

  5. Great points! This is one of my pet peeves (how dads are portrayed on TV and in the media). The undermining of the family has got to be one of the enemy’s most persistent (though sometimes subtle) agenda’s.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Donna,
      Yes, it is often subtle and is very persistent. We must be aware of it and fight against it.

  6. Because we don’t have TV hooked up to receive, I’m pretty oblivious to it. But when we did, I recall a Stanley Steemer (carpet cleaning service) ad that showed a man running a blender with what I guess was yogurt in it, with no lid, and it categorized “husbands” as mess-makers along with “pets and kids”. ICK! As if wives/mothers aren’t capable of making a mess?! If we did need carpet cleaning (which we don’t in a house with hardwood floors, haha)- there would be NO way I’d call their company, even years after that ad.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Katie,
      This is exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, we are mess-makers, too. In fact, I probably make more messes than my husband. 😉 I’m glad you noticed this stereotype right away and countered it.

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