Men are usually M.I.A. in laundry ads, typically showing up, if at all, to hand off clothes they dirtied to be cleaned by the women in their lives. But Tide decided to flip that script — with an ad that features a football player no less.
In a detergent commercial that was released over the summer, NFL player Drew Brees is seen pulling dirty clothes off his son and picking up after him. He tells the camera, “I’m the equipment manager in this house,” implying that laundry is his alone to take care of:
It’s a short ad, clocking in at 15 seconds, but it’s still unusual that a wife never appears on screen or is mentioned during the entire spot. Instead, the message of the ad is that Brees is a dad who takes on the household chore of laundry and therefore thinks about what brand of detergent to buy, rather than leaving it all to his partner. There’s no need for him to prove that this is a masculine task or to crack a joke about how emasculating it is. He’s a dad, he does laundry, period.
Compare that to a recent ad the company did in October, featuring a woman who “quit [her] job a while back to be with the kids” and frets over her children looking “dingy” and burning some muffins in the oven. This is the script most ads for household cleaning products adhere to: Marketing to women who are in charge of keeping their houses clean. Era detergent did a campaign earlier this year that only features women talking about detergent and one chiding her husband for having to be asked to do chores over and over again. Even Gain’s campaign aimed at men, rather than women, plays on the idea that men are slobs who can barely take care of themselves and have to be scolded into buying detergent.
The Brees ad came after another Tide commercial that, while it featured a wife doing laundry, depicted it as an act of super fandom vengeance. There were a host of other NFL season commercials this year that broke with the idea that women don’t watch sports by marketing products directly to women or featuring them as hard core fans.
But while a growing number of couples may look like Brees’s family, where men take on their share of the domestic duties, American women are still shouldered with the majority of that work. More men say they take on half of their household’s cooking and grocery shopping and they do nearly three times as much childcare and double the housework they did in the 1960s, yet overall women are putting in far more time. On an average day, about half of women do housework such as cleaning or laundry, but just 20 percent of men do. Mothers spend nearly double the amount of time on unpaid work in the home that fathers do in an average week, while fathers find three more hours of leisure time.
Society on the whole has yet to catch up to the fact that women now make up about half the workforce, including 70 percent of mothers. Around three-quarters of adults think it is best for a child if his mother works part-time or not at all, although those numbers have improved over the years. Fathers who spend time caring for their children are treated worse at work than coworkers whose wives take on that role, and men have been bringing more discrimination cases on these grounds, with the number of cases relating to family responsibilities brought by male plaintiffs shooting up 300 percent between 2006 and 2010.
The Brees ad won’t change these societal expectations overnight, but it does help normalize the cultural shift that allows and expects women to be workers and men to be caretakers.