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Creators of branded content who wish to participate in cultural conversations and discourse are often left with open questions about the stance that they are taking. What is the mainstream viewpoint? What is a radical viewpoint? What is a contrarian viewpoint? How will their intended audience respond or react to the storyline and cultural message? Will they agree and applaud or disagree politely or get so agitated that they throw the notional eggs? Worse still, will they just shrug their shoulders and move on, in a display of indifference. Hence, will this piece of advertising or branded content strengthen brand love or deplete it?

Semioticians do provide a perspective on the question by their detailed study of cultural discourse, looking through large samples of content from the cultural discourse. Semioticians identify the cultural codes that are prevalent in cultural discourse, which are the points of view put forward by content creators and prosumers. 

From the audience viewpoint, the only reliable source of information are large scale, social attitudes or opinion surveys. Brands, individually, rarely invest in carrying out such surveys because of the investment level involved. Even conglomerates and large corporates such as HUL and ITC who have large brand portfolios, don’t invest in social attitude surveys. These are usually carried out by organisations that consider themselves to be stakeholders in social development rather than brand owners.

Recently, the Pew Foundation in the USA, an independent Foundation that studies social attitudes across the globe, carried out a very large scale, social attitudes survey in India. With a sample size of 29,999 adults, both men and women, and a comprehensive oversight process, it is the most up-to-date and reliable source of information on social attitudes in India. Through the Pew Survey data, it becomes possible to compare cultural codes with social attitudes, first to identify the level of congruence between the two and then to classify branded content and ads into the position that they seek to promote.

While it covers many topics, we thought it would be interesting to look at gender and family attitudes as this is the area where culture change is often the slowest to take place. This is also the place where most brand communication operates as the TG for most brands is women or men or both/a couple, as decision-makers on products and brands to purchase.

This chart suggests that progressive ideas about gender equality have become broadly prevalent. Whether earning money (54%) or taking care of children (62%) or making decisions about expenses (73%), the majority see these as the shared responsibility of men and women.  We could further interpret this as indicating that a spirit of ‘partnership’ between men and women for furthering family goals (earning, spending and taking care of children) is the mainstream viewpoint or belief. 

This ‘equal partnering’ spirit is even more dominant among college graduates. Among graduates, the viewpoint that both men and women are responsible is even more widespread:

for earning money (64%), taking care of children (73%) and making decisions on spending (82%).

Within this claimed worldview of spousal partnership, however, there lies the scope for a variety of positions or manifestations in practice, which can be made visible in the narratives of branded content/cultural discourse. Does equal responsibility for taking care of children imply role reversal of dads performing the roles hitherto only played by moms? Or does it mean gender agnostic performance of roles? Or does it mean division of functions as per age-old tropes - the dad earns and provides financially while the mom cares and provides nurturance. Finally, does it imply that dads change their position in their children’s lives - from distant, slightly absentee authority figures who are feared to deeply involved and caring protectors and problem solvers.

Let’s look at some examples of ‘equal partnership parenting’ as expressed in branded content. 

For instance, consider:

Pampers #ItTakes2

The two-minute video traces the very beginning of the parenting journey. It does not downplay a mother’s suffering or her contribution, instead, it shows a father who wishes to match up to her contribution. Codes attached traditionally to the mother such as “sacrificing sleep” (for the child) are organically accorded to the father, too. It is an essentiality that needs to be shared between both parents. This narrative is an ode to the spirit of equal-partnership parenting that still pedestalizes the mother.

Flipkart celebrating “Dads Who Do It All”

Flipkart shows a comprehensive set of fathers across the spectrum including an army dad and a stay-at-home dad. Taking a cue from male penguins who protect their eggs, the Flipkart dads are all hands-on dads who cook, comb their daughter’s hair and are invested in their kid’s education beyond simply checking the report card at the end of the year. The concept also throws light on fathers and men, in general, getting closer to expressing their feelings and taking on roles that were once considered feminine. This is the ‘role reversal’ narrative.

Unacademy “Teach Them Young”

Unacademy’s video taps into the ‘father as a friend’ spirit. After his son comes home having beaten yet another one of his daughter’s friends, the father has a candid chat with his son. He subtly tells the young son that he needs to respect his sister’s space and protect her when she asks him to. Not only is the father challenging a very dominant patriarchal notion, but he is also creating space for a one-on-one conversation with his son. This is noteworthy since a repressively modelled father is often seen closed off from the family in terms of communication.

Stayfree “It’s Just a Period”

For this project, Stayfree got together seventy fathers along with their daughters and handed them each a different script. The fathers realise that the script is about ‘periods’ mid-way, on camera. While visibly uncomfortable and perturbed, they then make the effort to go ahead and tell their young daughters about menstruation. They assuage their daughters’ fears and comfort them as the young ones get terrified about bleeding and other changes. Showing fathers as communicators and that too in the field of menstrual hygiene is quite unprecedented and an important dimension to add to the ‘new-age dad’ persona.


The ‘new-age dad’ is a cultural code that is very visible in cultural discourse by brands and in the content on OTT platforms such as web series, comedy etc.  As semioticians, it seemed to us that this code is now mainstream. It’s not new, radical or contrarian, especially if the brand’s TG are the educated, urban, upper-middle-class. India is a big country and expectedly, such progressive views on parenting are not found everywhere, in all states or among all social groups. But that’s the subject of another article that explores differences vs. commonalities.

The Pew Study indicates that mainstream cultural discourse has now translated into social attitudes as well. Thus, there is now a mutually reinforcing dynamic or a symbiotic relationship between cultural discourse and social attitudes and beliefs with respect to modern parenting, especially when it comes to fatherhood. 

The space of “equal partner families” is ripe for more and more interesting narratives on ‘new-age dads’ and ‘equal partner parenting’. A watch-out for brands that still feature ‘hands-off’ dads in their ads: your communication could soon begin to look ‘outdated’ or ‘too traditional’/‘orthodox’ in its manifest values.