Lead Like A Boss, Dad

By Geoffrey Botkin

A Canadian ad agency has just broken every politically correct rule of TV fatherhood. General Mills Canada hired the Toronto firm to pitch a product that’s “awesome and responsible”: Peanut Butter Cheerios. The commercial’s Creative Director Josh Stein did something truly creative. He associated the two words with fatherhood. The result: a two minute tour of family life narrated by a young middle class dad who isn’t dopey, clueless, cowardly, or detached from reality. And get this: he comes with a wife and children who respond to him in the home with affection and respect.

The cereal box makes a brief appearance as Dad passes it to a teen son and adjusts the boy’s wardrobe. He looks the son in the eye and says, “That’s a boy (hat turned sideways) and that’s a man (hat facing front).” Later, in a corny, more adolescent moment, Dad proclaims Peanut Butter Cheerios “the official cereal of dadhood.”

But the star of the commercial isn’t the cereal. It’s confident and competent fatherhood. General Mills has presented a boss-awesome dad archetype, and viewers are eating it up. “Man. I bought it,” said one online commenter. “The messaging that is. Now I want to buy the cereal.”

“We (dads) lead by example,” Dad says direct to camera. “When a rule is broken, we’re the enforcement. When a heart is broken, we’re the reinforcement.”

From his first waking moment, Dad has believable relationships with children who, rather than snickering and rolling their eyes at lame ol’ dad, act happy and secure with a father figure who is clearly awesome and responsible himself. This confident father walks fast, talks fast, and his children happily follow him out of the house (note: Dad is leading) into the big, wide world where the closing product super is supposed to come up on screen. But it’s not the product logo that appears. It’s a hashtag: #howtodad. This brilliant. This creative campaign is creating viral “brand lift” and drawing brand loyalty to General Mills. Response to the ad shows the company looking “awesome and responsible” to the very demographic they have just connected with: parents. Parents who are serious about parenting and who are fed up with media that mocks parental authority.

“I don’t even like cereal, and I’m headed to Sam’s Club to buy a pallet of these Cheerios,” reads one of hundreds of similar grateful comments, “…because I want to see more commercials similar to this!”

The Cheerios campaign makes no sniveling apologies for fathers dispensing wisdom (a dozen lessons in two minutes), fathers giving direction (Dad gives verbal and non-verbal instruction to all four children), or big families (four kids is really big in Canada). From the moment dad gets up, he has a mission and a message: our kids think we’re awesome, and “being awesome isn’t about breaking rules, it’s about making them.”

With this line, General Mills just stood up as the adult in the creative advertising world.

The giant spenders like Proctor and Gamble, Pepsi, and Time Warner have not been giants of moral leadership. For a generation they have followed the “Scoff at Dad” school of childish filmmaking. One recent Tide Acti-Lift Detergent ad was a brazen 60-second celebration of teenage victory over dad’s stupid morality. In a masterful example of the penetrating power of cinema, Dad’s morality and authority were overthrown in seconds.

The story: Dad disapproves of his shapely teen daughter’s micro-mini-skirt. He takes it off the clothesline and uses it as a grease rag, tossing it in a trash can. The daughter is outraged. But clever Mom conspires with daughter to clean up the garment and send the daughter flouncing out the door for another night on the town. In this short cultural lesson, daughters everywhere are shown how to flaunt defiance, shake their derrieres, sneer at Dad’s authority, and tousle Dad’s hair like he’s child. The narrator reminds us that “Dad may try to ruin your style, but dry stains won’t,” while an explicit rap track offers arrangements for nightly fornication. As Mom gloats with a satisfied smirk, and daughter sails out the door to enjoy her own defiant lifestyle, Dad just sits in his chair in the living room looking stupid, offering a wan smile in abject moral defeat.

But the General Mills dad is a new kind of TV dad. He doesn’t surrender. He doesn’t shrink. He’s not checked out. He engages. He clearly enjoys the responsibilities and benefits of family life. The best review of the spot was a seven-word comment on the internet, written by a young man whose life was changed by a creative, two-minute TV message. “I can’t wait,” he wrote, “to be a dad.”

First published at the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences. Published in full with permission. Visit the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences for more great articles and excellent discipleship materials.

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