Huggies told to ‘pull up’ their socks by disgruntled fathers

In March 2012, Huggies felt a rash of embarrassment over their advertising campaign “Dad Test”, as fathers took offence at the idea their (lack of) parenting skills were the “toughest test imaginable” for a nappy.

According to an online petition created by peeved parent Chris Routly, the TV ad voiceover states: “To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: dads, alone with their babies, in one house, for five days, while we gave moms some well deserved time off. How did Huggies products hold up to daddyhood?”

The Washington Post reported the imagery used in the TV and online ads was of an “exasperated father wearing a suit”- presenting increasingly outdated views that dads cannot cope with nappies and disappear off to work instead.

The online petition got a lot of traction, with over 1,300 signatures agreeing with Mr Routly that “We’re Dads, Huggies. Not Dummies.”

The Huggies Facebook page also received a lot of complaints, as a number of people objected to the advert depicting fathers as hapless and deficient.

With an estimated 70+ million fathers in the US at that time, including 1.8 million single dads, that was a lot of customers to pee off!

What does good look like?

Huggies should have been aware of these numbers, and realised that fathers are taking a more active part in the caregiving of their children.

They really had no excuse either, given the amount of press attention on this issue at the time.

In the previous month, New York Times Motherlode blogger KJ Dell’Antonia hit the headlines when she drew attention to a 2010 Census report on childcare which stated a mother is the “designated parent” and a father was a “childcare arrangement.”

And the year before, the Census Bureau released data – in time for Father’s Day – that demonstrated the increasing role dads were undertaking.

Huggies should use this insight to create ads that resonate with all their target market, and certainly not alienate part of it!

Moving forward

In the end, Huggies engaged with their market – they attended the Dad 2.0 summit to talk with the audience they had angered.

They also apologised to Mr Routly, who in an open letter said Huggies had acknowledged the ad “genuinely insulted many” and conceded it “communicated quite a different message than the one they intended”.

The TV spots were replaced. As were the single image ads. Gone were the flustered, suited men struggling to cope with their children. Now there was a dad wearing jeans and a T-shirt, striking a confident pose and cradling a baby in one arm.

In terms of a response to a crisis, they handled this very well and should be commended. But had they spoken and tested with the target market first, they might have avoided this sorry tale.


Chris Rogers

I curate stories of #badmarketing so marketing professionals and business owners like you can learn from the mistakes of others - and produce better marketing that’s right first time. Bad Marketing also aims to be essential reading for marketers, academics & students – and anyone interested in the challenges of marketing.