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Ever since our understanding of gender and gender roles began undergoing revision, the traditional understanding of fathers too has been challenged. Now we are being told that fathers don’t have to be authoritative and scary figures who glare their kids down into living life how they see fit. Just because they are busy earning a living, doesn’t mean fathers should remain absent in their children’s lives and leave their wife to do all the parenting.

New-age understanding dictates that fathers should be approachable, empathetic and involved. They should act as a parent in the way mothers have been doing all this while. That doesn’t mean they have to become like the super mom – flawless, ever present and forever sacrificing. But that they should take the initiative to consistently spend time with their child instead of allowing themselves to fall back into the traditional mould of fatherhood.

Of course, the ground reality is yet to align with this progressive vision. But as usual, brands are at the forefront, acting as cultural activists to nudge more and more consumers into making it come true. They are either reflecting it back to their audience like it is already the obvious and pre-dominant way of being a father, or framing their communication as the responsible way forward.

This collective effort has led them to unanimously form the code of the new-age dad. It hasn’t resulted from a spoken consensus but, surprisingly, it has still come out unified. Which is not to say that each brand hasn’t pulled a different storyline from it. But the code seems to remain consistent regardless of that.

As illustrations, we have picked five pieces of branded content from the last three years. Each of these will reinforce how brands have codified the new-age dad. To really flesh out the code, we have stuck to conceptualisations of young fathers – given that this is the stage when men learn what it means to be a parent, it will best illustrate what goes into becoming a new-age dad. 

Take a look at what we have found.

What makes the new-age dad?

Overall, branded content shows the new-age dad as someone who is fully present for his children every step of the way. He is not just there for their special moments but puts in the time to patiently get them through their daily schedule. It is through this kind of close involvement that the new-age dad receives the emotional gratification of being a father.

This core idea gets broken up into further elaborations that help flesh it out in relation to our cultural realities.

For instance, the idea of being ‘fully present’ gets taken forward to emphasise that the new-age dad does everything. He provides the full parent experience to his children, not a gendered version of the father’s role. His presence isn’t conditional – it isn’t influenced by whether he has the time, is in the mood or is playing back-up for the mother.

Flipkart’s 2018 campaign #PenguinDad sums this up in its closing scene: as a father readies his child for a fancy dress competition, the teacher-in-charge asks him if he’s on mom duty, to which he corrects her by saying he is on parent duty.

Flipkart’s ‘Celebrating dads who do it all’:

Pampers 2021 campaign #ItTakes2 takes this idea a step forward. It asks why only mothers should care for the new-born in its early days. A father too can learn to do the basics such as testing the temperature of the milk, changing the baby’s nappies and rocking it back to sleep when it wakes up at odd hours. This visualisation of the new-age dad challenges the idea that only a mother or another woman (like a grandmother) can nurture the baby in its early months.

Pampers ‘A father's promise’:

However, this idea of ‘doing it all’ is qualified by brands in most cases. Just because the new-age dad attends to all his duties as a parent, doesn’t mean he needs to be perfect at performing all of them. What matters is that he shouldn’t miss out on key moments with his child just because he is afraid of messing up. 

Flipkart presents this qualification through three visuals – one where a father reaches halfway to his office after seeing off children, only to realise that their water bottles are still strapped around his neck, another where a father tries to cook his daughter a dosa but ends up burning it, and a third where a father tries to make his daughter’s hair but does a less than unsuccessful job of it.

Wakefit’s 2020 campaign for Father’s Day adds to these visuals by showing a father who accidentally snores off before his child while putting him to sleep and another where he gets distracted by his phone while feeding his child.

Wakefit’s ‘Papa toh papa hote hai’:

This heavy focus on the father’s presence is clearly a response to the absent father trope that we mentioned at the beginning. Before, the absence of fathers was justified because they were seen as the primary bread earner of the family. If the family wanted a comfortable and aspirational lifestyle, the father had to be away earning it. And whatever time he had left was his own to spend – in peace and quiet, away from the children.

While he still may remain the primary bread earner, the new-age dad is expected to remain present regardless of his duties.

Wakefit indicates this by showing a father who makes time to play with his children after work (‘aur poore din kaam ke baad, raat ko humare punching bag ban jaate hain’). Flipkart shows it through three visuals – one, where a soldier video calls back home to attend his daughter’s parent-teacher meeting, two, where a father holds off a phone call from a colleague to pose with his family for a picture, and three, where a mechanic supervises his son’s study while at his job.

The last key ingredient that makes up the new-age dad is approachability. Interacting with him isn’t about seeking permission from the ultimate authority figure of the household. It isn’t about holding him in deep reverence and respecting the boundaries he has placed around himself.

What it is about is treating him like a close confidant. Because he is the one who enables his children and stands up for them. Like in Mahindra and Nanhi Kali’s 2018 campaign #LadkiHaathSeNikalJaayegi, where the father encourages his little daughter to dream big and freely regardless of the limits society tries to put around her.

Mahindra’s #LadkiHaathSeNikalJaayegi:

But it doesn’t have to be all serious. The new-age dad is also approachable because he doesn’t set boundaries on how his kids should interact with him – he makes space for them to be themselves instead of turning them into submissive and subdued figures around him.

Amazon India shows this lighter side to approachability in its 2019 campaign for Father’s Day where kids are shown pulling at their father’s face for amusement or drawing on his face with lipstick for play.

Amazon’s ‘Let's #DeliverTheLove’:

Wrapping up

Through the five examples we have highlighted here, and also through the larger group that we scanned; brands are trying to focus the message of the new-age dad onto as large a cross-section as they realistically can. Just because the message is progressive, they haven’t kept it restricted to the elite, globalised Indian. They have tried to present it as a goal that can be achieved by anyone who gives it a go.

This suggests that brands are trying to use branded content to bring a cultural change through consumer culture. They are trying to undo the definitions of parenthood set by advertising, which have been largely focussed on the mother-child unit, and expand its understanding to something more gender-neutral.

If they wish to progress and grow the movement further, branded content, as a proven method of cultural participation and change-making, is surely the way to it.