Dear Mr. Dad: During the last Olympics, you wrote about how Procter & Gamble’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign ignores dads and their importance in their children’s lives. I was hoping that they would have made some changes, but they’re at it again. Why is this still going on?

A: I honestly wish I knew. Even my kids have been asking me why P&G never talks about dads. I’ve been urging the company for years to create a campaign that thanks dads, or at least to change the current one to “Thank you mom and dad.” But they see every Olympics as an opportunity to slap dads in the face. Yes, mothers deserve a ton of gratitude. But so do fathers.

I’ve analyzed a lot of research on how parents influence children’s interest in sports, and the findings are crystal clear: Dads play the primary role in getting—and keeping—kids involved. They’re more likely to coach sports teams, and they’re usually the ones who put in countless hours helping their children—and many other people’s children—hone the skills they’ll need to succeed (and the resilience to cope with defeat), whether on a world stage like the Olympics or the playground at recess.

Kids benefit from dad’s involvement off the court too. Children—boys and girls alike—whose father supports them in sports get better grades in school and have more successful careers. They’re also less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Of course, plenty of moms are actively involved in their kids’ sports life. But if all you had to go on was P&G’s ads, you’d think that all our athletes were abandoned by their fathers and raised exclusively by single mothers. That’s a real problem on several fronts. Ignoring us as parents is insulting. Alienating us as consumers is really, really bad for business.

Dads today are involved in every aspect of our children’s lives. And while P&G might argue that women make the majority of purchasing decisions, it’s not by much. Ninety percent of dads are involved in everyday buying decisions for their family, and over 40 percent do half or more of the household shopping. Single dads and at-home dads account for an even greater share, and those numbers are only going up as the percentage of women who outearn their husbands keeps rising.

Some advertisers worry that ads aimed at dad will alienate moms. But the truth is that most moms sincerely support their husbands, and my research shows that they actually respond very favorably to dad-friendly ads—and want to see more of them. Positive images build brand loyalty (the “Thank You, Mom” ads prove that) and negative images—or deliberately absent ones—do exactly the opposite and will encourage male and female consumers to spend their shopping dollars on non-P&G brands. I’ve already done that.

We know that ads profoundly shape how people see themselves and others (several countries have banned ads featuring underweight female models because those images encourage unhealthy behavior). As a result, we talk about “the men and women of the armed forces,” and use gender-neutral phrases like “police officers,” “mail carriers,” even though men are the overwhelming majority in all those professions. The message is that girls can be anything they want.

If we value getting men more involved, we need to be show them actively involved with their kids: guiding, teaching, loving, and caring for them—exactly what we do in real life. But 75 percent of men find most advertising irrelevant to them and nearly half feel unwelcome in retail stores (even higher if they’re going underwear shopping with their daughters).

By ignoring dads and their vital contributions to their children’s lives, we’re telling them that they aren’t important. And that just increases the chances that they’ll leave the parenting up to mom.

So thank you, Dad!

Photo credit: pixabay