Men say their clothing and fitness becomes more important when they become a dad.
Although the parenting landscape is heavy on female-friendly content, millennials are changing the face of the modern-day family. In fact, a recent Pew Research study shows that fathers have nearly tripled the amount of time spent on housework and childcare since the 1960s. Simon Isaacs, co-founder and chief content officer of Fatherly, a new site launched in 2015 to address millennial fathers, sat down with JWT Intelligence to discuss the site.
How did Fatherly start?
When my wife and I were exploring having kids, we signed up for all the traditional parenting sites: What To Expect, the Bump. None of it was really connecting to me. I’ve built and created a lot of marketing agencies in that space, and stuff over at Coca-Cola. There was this idea that women controlled 80% of all purchasing decisions. It wasn’t reflective of what I was seeing, nor could I actually pinpoint where this information was coming from.
In parenting, that became even more pronounced. Everything was geared toward “mommies,” and brands had “mommy blogger” blinders on, and it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. And yet it wasn’t true. At the same time, a recent report had just come out where 52% of men claimed they were the primary grocery shopper. If you look downstream, the majority of master’s and PhD degree students were women.
The way we were speaking to parents was really off. And I realized what a huge opportunity that would be from a marketing and business perspective, but also from an impact perspective. Part of why we exist is that if you can create the content tools and community at scale, you can shift and shape culture. You can get men engaged even more than they already are, and excited about fatherhood. And if you can do that, you can address gender equity at home and at work.
Every new birth today is to a millennial. This is a generation of people who think very differently about gender norms. It’s a generation of people who have equal interest in parenting, as well as in work. Everywhere I looked, I saw men primarily being the one in the grocery aisle, men walking around the park with their Baby Bjorns. Between that and what I was seeing from media and from brands, there’s something big.
How has the reception been since Fatherly launched?
It is beyond my wildest dreams. We had the fastest rise of profitability of any digital media company ever. Last year I had 1.9 billion video views on our Facebook videos alone. We’re now the largest parenting site on social media, and we have about 10 times the engagement of every other parenting site, as well as Esquire and GQ.
We’re doing some stuff right. Parenting media, in its digital form, was built around gen X. We’re able to also attract millennial parents. There’s also a truism that women read men’s publications, but it doesn’t go the other way around. So if you want dual audiences, men aren’t going to the Bump. But women are coming to us, though we’re very focused on fathers.
How does “fatherhood” square with the traditional stereotypes of millennials? Do you still find the generational stereotypes useful?
The millennial stereotype is a little bit of a trap, to some extent. With that said, there’s a lot of examples where millennial parents and millennials are very consistent. For example, a focus on experiences rather than things. We’re seeing that in the way people parent. We’re seeing that in their interest in travel and destinations and experiences with their kids.
Of course, this is digitally native parenting. This is parenting through Alexa and Facebook. Another area where you see distinction and change is in the workplace. Once you are a parent, you are going to be changing jobs less. You’re not throwing caution to the winds. But this generation of parents is certainly freelancing. They are part of the gig economy more than their parents were. But they also have a core understanding of the realities of raising children, because they are so invested in their kids.
What about outside the workplace? It’s interesting that you also have pop culture and regular news, alongside parenting content.
Our guys still want to maintain their identity, of being a cool guy. In fact, men say their appearance and their clothing and fitness becomes more important when they become a dad. They see themselves with their family, and they want to present them and their family in the best possible way.
They’re still watching great shows. They’re still interested in going to cool places. Rather than going to that family-friendly resort, they want to go to the cool place, and they want to bring their kids with them. They want to go to the beer garden, but they want that beer garden to have a kid’s area with a playset in it. They want cool coffee, and they want that coffee shop to have a book corner for their kids to hang out in. They’re not leaving their kid home with a nanny to go to the bar. That’s a big difference.
What is the average Fatherly reader?
It is 100% all over the map. It is America, in many respects. It is as conservative as it is liberal. They are mechanic and vets, and they are executives and stay-at-home dads and artists. What’s cool about parenting is that in a world that has become more divided, there is this uniting of “dadliness.” And we’ve built a really strong community around that.
Are you seeing shifts in how brands speak to fathers?
Yes, massively. One area is brands that have traditionally engaged moms that realize they missed the mark. Those could be stroller companies, personal care companies, cleaning products, you name it. Today, 80% of millennial dads say that they have a primary or equal share in grocery shopping. So these brands need to start to really reach out to them and engage them. They are coming to us to begin to right their ships.
On the other hand, you have brands that have traditionally engaged men: GMC, Spotify. Now that men are putting families at a higher point in their value set, they’re coming to us to help shape their narrative around fatherhood and family. The Esquire, GQ, ESPN world of connecting with them doesn’t resonate as much anymore. And when they did work with those guys, they mostly captured a male audience.
If you look at the Super Bowl last year, it’s all dad-vertising. What used to be the Father’s Day ad is now kind of everywhere. We’re seeing a ton of engagement from finance, for example. Not only are dads still making a lot of the primary financial services decisions, but this is the most important time to engage them. They’re going through this massive life stage. The millennial generation is going from generation rent to generation buy. Sorry Zipcar, but we actually do need a car. And while it sounds nice to have a tiny home, we realize that we need a bigger one. There are other realities.
Often, there’s a massive uproar when brands depict dads as idiots. These guys don’t want to be seen as idiots, as the doofus dad. Yes, everybody should know that by now, but not always. Earlier this year, Yoplait had an ad that was probably well intentioned, but the ad said, “mom’s the boss.” There was a big backlash against that.
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On the other hand, they don’t want to be seen as superheroes. They really just want to be seen as parents. And that’s it. Where we’re going with a lot of the brand communications is that it’s not your special dad spot. It’s just fully integrated into how you communicate.
What’s coming up next for Fatherly?
We are going to put a ton of emphasis on YouTube. Men search more for parenting content on YouTube. We’re going after some new platforms this year. We have a big event called the Father of the Year awards, which is our version of the Glamour “Women Of the Year” for dads. That’ll happen in October.
Anything that we didn’t talk about?
Previously, with gen X, everybody was an “expert.” All these content platforms were built around a chat room, where every mom and dad could be the expert. That’s no longer interesting for parents. We’re seeing a big rise in backlash against parental judgement. This generation just wants the damn answer, and they want it from an expert. They want it from somebody who’s the most credentialed. A lot of our approach is to deliver that
The other thing I think we’re going to see is a real focus on boys. The world has put a lot of focus on girls’ empowerment, and rightly so. But we tend to see boys as “easy.” Shrug it off, man up, all these things. We don’t recognize the complexity. there’s a lot of work to do there. I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of work around emotional intelligence and boyhood, overall.