DENVER — Ask any mom or dad to name one of the biggest challenges about parenting today, and you will probably get an earful about the constant judgment they face about their decisions.
Breast vs. bottle, stay-at-home vs. work outside the home, natural birth vs. drug-assisted delivery, baby carrier vs. stroller. It’s not just what you decide but the disapproval you face from the opposing camp.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
It is truly ridiculous when you think about it, which is exactly the point of a hilarious and moving new ad by formula maker Similac.
The commercial, which has now been seen more than 4 million times on YouTube, pits the rival camps against each other on (where else?) the playground.
There are the stroller moms, the moms with baby carriers, the working moms, the stay-at-home moms, the stay-at-home dads and of course the “breast is best” crowd pitted against the bottle-feeders.
“Oh, look. The breast police have arrived,” says one of the moms holding a bottle. “100% breastfed. Straight from the source,” a breastfeeder fires back.
If only these kinds of exchanges were simply the creation of comedy writers, but sadly, they’re not.
Neither is a verbal volley like this one in the ad: “I wonder what it’s like being a part-time mom,” says a stay-at-home mom. A working mom tartly responds, “I wonder what they do all day.” Another mom in a suit answers, “Mani-pedis.”
And, just when all these moms and dads get ready to literally rumble in the sandbox, moving closer and closer to each other, a stroller with a baby inside goes flying downhill after her mom lets go of the handle. As the moms and dads start realizing what happened, they all chase after the stroller until finally the stroller is caught and the delicious baby inside is saved.
That leads to smiles, hugs and handshakes all around, and this line on the screen: “No matter what our beliefs, we are parents first.”
Love. That. Line.
Misha Pardubicka-Jenkins, director of marketing for Abbott, the maker of Similac, said the ad is a direct response to what she and her colleagues have heard from parents.
“They feel judged. It’s not about (bottle)-feeding vs. breastfeeding. It’s bigger than that. It is from the type of diapers you choose, whether it’s disposable or cloth, to sleep training to when do you start potty training to feeding,” Pardubicka-Jenkins said.
“We want parents to feel supported however they parent, and that’s that.”
I posted the ad on my Facebook page, and the parents who responded loved it.
“I think the messaging is brilliant,” said Sue Scheff, an author, parent advocate and family Internet safety advocate. “Parents are so busy judging each other, they forget the big picture, the little ones, the exact ones we are supposed to be role models for.”
Tish Howard, a retired elementary school principal, wholeheartedly agreed. “When we wonder why the art of professional debate is gone, just look at how we reply on Facebook to differing opinions. We could learn so very much from each other. Our children live what they learn.”
But, there are some critics: namely fathers’ groups who say the ad missed a key opportunity to showcase how much today’s dads are involved in modern parenting.
Brent Almond, founder of the blog Designer Daddy, wrote that he appreciated that dads were represented as one of the “gangs” and how the commercial touched on how, too often, fathers are made to feel less capable than mothers.
But his beef has to do with the final tagline, “Welcome to the Sisterhood of Motherhood” and the hashtag #SisterhoodUnite.
“Why go to the trouble to include fathers at all, if you’re just going to erase them with the final shot,” wrote Almond.
“Don’t throw dads a bone only to snatch it away at the last minute. It’s irresponsible, disingenuous, and just plain inconsistent. … The omission of fathers from the final frames of the ad is completely contrary to the message of the campaign — that we’re all in this together.”
In response, the company says that “Sisterhood of Motherhood” is a mindset and a campaign that is designed to be universal.
“Our campaign includes everybody. Moms, dads, grandparents, passerbys, people who don’t have children. Let’s all support the parents who are out there trying their best,” Pardubicka-Jenkins said.
Of course, since Similac is one of the leading formulas for babies, you have to wonder how much of the ad is a way to buttress the bottle-feeding moms and increase interest in formula, especially with breastfeeding on the rise in America.
In the United States, 77% of infants start out breastfeeding, according to a 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF). The report states that 49% of infants were breastfeeding at 6 months in 2010; that’s up from 35% in 2000. During the same time period, the breastfeeding rate at 12 months jumped from 16% to 27%.
Pardubicka-Jenkins said the ad, produced by the Publicis Kaplan Thaler agency, is about more than bottle-feeding vs. breastfeeding. The product, she notes, isn’t even showcased in the ad.
The company hopes it’s starting a conversation about modern parenting, which parents will keep having on playgrounds, and in workplaces and parking lots.
“As a mom of three, one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced personally is when people questioned the decisions that I made about raising my children in my family,” said Pardubicka-Jenkins, a mom of twins about to turn 8 and a 5-year-old.
“So I’ll bet there isn’t a mom or dad that’s reading your site that’s not shaking their heads saying, ‘I’m in agreement. I’ve experienced this. You’re talking to me. Finally.’ “