Advertisers take note of dads' larger role in back-to-school shopping

Back to school shopping
Philippe Huguen | AFP | Getty Images

Though traditionally back-to-school purchases were considered a mom's responsibility, dads are increasingly taking a role in household purchases, and it's opening up a door for consumer product goods companies and other child-based brands to market to a new demographic: millennial fathers.

"We used to have this belief that women controlled 80 percent of all purchases," said Simon Isaacs, the co-founder and chief content officer of media company Fatherly. "Every single creative brief has that assumption built into it. But when you stop and think about it, that's 1950s America. We keep telling ourselves that story, while the makeup of the American household and those responsibilities have changed."

According to Rubicon Project's 2016 Back-to-School Consumer Pulse, 61 percent of parents plan to spend more than they did last year on their children, totaling an average of $917. The study was conducted by global polling firm Penn Schoen Berland, which interviewed 1,506 parents with children in K–12 and entering their freshman year of college.

But while moms were still the lead shoppers, dads are definitely more involved than they used to be, especially with technology. Fathers in particular were more likely to use mobile devices to shop for back-to school items. A little over four out of 10 dads said they planned to do at least a quarter of their shopping on mobile, compared to just 24 percent of moms. They also were more likely to make "impulsive" purchases and buy something based off what they saw on mobile or online. More than half clicked on a mobile ad, and 35 percent purchased because of a mobile ad. Results were slightly higher for online ads respectively.

It's not just back-to-school purchases that men are taking an interest in: It's the household in general. A BabyCenter survey in March of 2,000 people found that 84 percent of U.S. parents said that fathers are taking an increasing role in childrearing.

"We do believe that millennials look at parenting different than other generations," said Julie Michaelson, head of global sales at BabyCenter. "Many moms and dads are both working, and in many cases the woman is the primary breadwinner outside the home. We're seeing much more co-parenting today due to this challenge."

Michaelson said as a result, companies are looking for ways to reach millennial fathers. While many companies ask BabyCenter for male-centric strategies, it often advises that advertising should show what today's family is really like. This means featuring dad as a primary caregiver, or showing multicultural or "nontraditional" families in ads. For example, Honey Maid's "This Is Wholesome" ads featured families of all shapes and sizes.

"A brand or product may serve all families, but I think what consumers want to see is a brand reflecting reality," Michaelson said. "They want to see him involved."

Issacs added that Fatherly's research has shown 80 percent of dads are involved with their baby's registry, an area that is traditionally only marketed to women. A survey from YouGov in June showed that 15 percent of dads do laundry on a daily basis, with a third doing it once a week.

For Fatherly, it's meant that they're getting business from brands like Fisher-Price, KinderCare and Boudreaux's Butt Paste, which previously wouldn't have asked for male-centric ad campaigns. For the rash cream company, Fatherly created a video of a dad constructing a rocket-themed changing table. The clip, which was posted on Tuesday, has already been viewed 386,000 times on Facebook.

"We went along with mommy blogger blinders in the way that we marketed grocery, CPG or juvenile products or toys and games. … Brands that have traditionally been 100 percent focused on mom are now speaking to engaged dad either as the primary purchaser or influencer," Isaacs said.