June 15, 2011 -- My father always had a small office in our house. As an Air Force family we moved a lot and lived in a lot of different houses but he would always find a spot…a nook next to the laundry room, a dormer window alcove or a big closet. Once he settled on a space, he'd set up shop and soon the room would be bursting at the seams with books, tools, cancelled checks, pens, pencils and lots of cool stuff I wasn't allowed to touch.
My dad liked gadgets and was an early adopter. I remember a sophisticated HP 65 programmable calculator, a Texas Instruments TI-99, one of the first consumer computers and a Seiko A159 digital watch—the same model James Bond wore in The Spy Who Loved Me. There was never room enough for his books and he would always find a way to cram a desk in the space. On his desk he would have many of the things we gave him for Father's Day: A golf themed pen and pencil set where the pen was a driver and the pencil an iron. A colorless slug of clay with an indentation in it that was, according to my sister, an ashtray. Hand-made cards, cheap golf balls with his name on it, misshapen things made out of Popsicle sticks, wet paper and bits of cloth. My siblings and I like to believe he loved all that junk. I'd save for 3 months to buy my mother something shiny from the department store but for dad, I used my imagination—and forced him to use his.
So it came as a great surprise when I read that according to the National Retail Federation, spending on Father's Day this year will rise to its highest point since the start of the survey 8 years ago. More than $11 billion dollars—an average of $106 per dad, will be shelled out taking dad out to eat, to the movies and a variety of other gifts including $1.4 billion in gift cards and $653 million in sporting goods equipment. I looked to advertising to see how marketers are trying to leverage the uptick in spending. Michelob Ultra, it what might be considered the best gift for the dysfunctional family is offering the Ultimate golfer's six-pack which comes packaged with a sleeve of Bridgestone golf balls.
The Ad Council has decided to use my mom's go to strategy –guilt-- and is using the holiday to break public service announcements that encourage dads to "Take Time to be a Dad Today" Many Major League Baseball teams will be running a promotion that allows kids to play catch with their dads on the field before the game. T-Mobile is giving dad's free data for a year. But for the most part advertisers are just trying to get you to spend a few more dollars on dad during this soft economy to help move the summer economy along.
For the past eight years, spending on dad has averaged about $94 bucks, this year, while spending on Mother's Day has held steady at about $140, spending on dad has risen by $11 dollars. This increase in consumer spending is not the result of increased spending in advertising. Perhaps the answer to why dad is suddenly so popular is in a recent Harris poll where adults surveyed said they would have most wanted to have Cliff Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby as their father growing up followed by Ward Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) and Jim Anderson (Father Knows Best). What these fathers all have in common is that they are a throwback to happier times, in fact, to times so great they never really existed outside of the small screen. Now as we are staring another contentious election in the face, with record unemployment, increased world unrest and increasingly dangerous weather patterns; idealizing fatherhood seems a natural place to run. My dad passed away three years ago this week. He never lived to see Barack Obama become president (he would have loved that) or Tiger Woods' incredible fall (that would have broken his heart). But I'm proud he lived long enough for me to give him the kind of gifts that made him forget the paper mâché…or maybe he never didn't want to. So for whatever reason Father's Day spending is increasing this year…let's go with it.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.
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