The real Super Bowl champs: Loving dads

Super Bowl XLIX is now in the books.  It’s been a decade since their last championship, but the Patriots managed to overcome both the defending champion Seahawks and the “Deflategate” scandal to emerge victorious.

There is, of course, another yearly tradition accompanying the game and the guacamole: the Game Day commercials.  Advertisers spend $4.5 million for 30-seconds of airtime, and at that price, typically pull out all the stops to create a memorable spot.

Some companies played to expectations: Carl’s Jr. continued to use sex to sell hamburgers, while Budweiser gave us another touching story of friendship between a puppy and a Clydesdale.   There were celebrity self-parodies, from Liam Neeson to Kim Kardashian to Pierce Brosnan.  Of these parodies, my personal favorite was an ad for the BMW i3 in which Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel portrayed themselves as still technologically clueless after all these years.  And if prizes were given for the most irreverent and cringe-worthy ads, the award would go to Mophie, for speculating how the world would devolve into pure chaos should God’s cell phone lose power.

But as a family life educator, I was most gratified to see how advertisers, in the midst of what is the closest thing our culture has to a national gladiatorial event, emphasized the theme of involved fatherhood.  Dove’s ad for their Men+Care line of products showed fathers being there when their kids needed them; the tagline declared that caring “makes a man stronger.”  Nissan showed an enduring father-son bond that played out against the background of Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit, Cat’s in the Cradle, my generation’s theme song for fatherly neglect.

Best in class, however, goes to Toyota, for their “My Bold Dad” spot, which is not only touching, but ends with an inspiring emotional punch.  In January, Toyota also created To Be a Dad, a video showing a series of interviews with a variety of manly men (including, of course, pro football players) talking about fatherhood and interacting with their children (an extended cut can be seen here).

I suspect that, in part, this is a response to the family-related scandals that have plagued the NFL in the past year.  Whatever the motivation (and let’s face it, corporations only run ads that they believe will positively affect their bottom line), Dove, Nissan, and Toyota are to be commended for creating commercials that also benefit the public.

Most commercials don’t trumpet their wares directly; they’re about product placement, giving a subtler message that says, People like this use products like these.  We’re given images of people who are young, beautiful, strong, or successful, and encouraged to believe that if we buy the right products, we can be all these things too.

In these Super Bowl commercials, however, we were given a different ideal toward which to strive.  Dove, Nissan, and Toyota each spent millions of dollars to reach millions of viewers, and let their products take a back seat to storylines that encouraged loving fatherhood.  Sure, ultimately, this is about selling cars and shampoo.  But that’s going to happen anyway.  And if, along the way, we are exposed to images of warm father-child relationships, I’m all for it.

So, from one man who has always loved being “Daddy”: thank you.

Really — thank you.