From puppets to gender stereotypes: how Dolmio missed the mark with its latest campaign
A view from Jane Johnson

From puppets to gender stereotypes: how Dolmio missed the mark with its latest campaign

Dolmio unleashed the star power of Dominic West in its latest campaign but the brand's reliance on outdated gender stereotypes missed the mark, says the Feel Communications managing director.

Billed as a change in Dolmio’s advertising "to focus on real-life situations," the pasta sauce brand has ditched the Italian puppets.  But the new spot couldn’t be further from real-life, and looks like an homage to the Bisto ad of the 1970s. It’s just a shame no-one at Dolmio seems to have realised that it's 2017.

Instead of a creative reinvigoration, the ad is set in a joyless kitchen where a mum is quietly stirring the dinner while Dad (played by Dominic West) and his son are engrossed in video game warfare.

Mum calls them to the table, the subtext being mum is a miserable killjoy who couldn’t understand a video game if she tried. West rises to his feet, puffs out his chest and gives an Oscar-worthy mansplaining performance to enlighten poor old mum about the vital importance of the boys’ video game.

She interrupts, telling them all it’s "spag bol" at which point they forget about firing guns and the lives that West claims are at stake and they compliantly race to the table, sit down and enjoy the perfect family meal prepared by mum.  The kitchen is suddenly full of laughter and smiles.

Missing the mark

Where to start on just how far this misses the mark when it comes to real-life situations?

The nuclear, Caucasian family compete with mum, dad, and two kids? The idea that everyone sits down together for the evening meal? The nagging, joyless mum vs. fun and game-playing dad?  The perfectly compliant kids? Or the gross gender-stereotyping?

This is an ad created by some of the country’s top creative brains; Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is the creative agency.  So it shouldn’t need an article in Campaign to point out that consumers are tired of gender-stereotyping, families are no longer just four people, mum doesn’t always cook dinner and even females understand video games.

Yet according to Clarence Mak, global chief marketing and customer officer at Mars Food, the ad "stems from what we know about families".  I’m not sure who Mars tested this with, or used as its inspiration for the ad, but I’d like to invite Clarence round to my house to experience a "real-life situation".  If I happen to be back from work in time, I am unlikely to be the one doing the cooking, and my kitchen is more likely to look like a scene from the video game battle than the place of tranquillity and harmony Dolmio presents. Furthermore, I am willing to bet that even a jar of Dolmio won’t be enough to entice my son away from playing games.

So how can brands avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping?

Demonstrate you really understand your customers

Customers like and engage with brands that show they understand them, not just claim they do. And to to do this you have to study them. Get the right data and actually use it. The more you understand about the way they live their lives, the more you can appeal to them.

Recruit more working parents into advertising

Bring people into your team who understand your target audience. A glance at the list of executives behind the ad at both AMV and Mars shows there were not many women involved. Which is a shame because I could put them in touch with plenty of my candidates who have FMCG campaign and brand management experience but can’t find roles within organisations like Mars that offer enough flexibility to manage family commitments as well.

Create a culture in your organisation where you encourage dissenting voices

I can only assume that someone somewhere must have seen this ad before it was approved and thought "Hmm, I wonder if this is really the right way to portray our consumers?" but didn’t. Consider the risks to your brand reputation and create an environment where it is OK for your team to challenge you.

I know this is simply an ad for a pasta sauce. But the world is a very varied place and advertisers have a responsibility when it comes to portraying race, sexuality, gender and family.

Because when they don't the result is enough to put you off your spag bol…

Jane Johnson is managing director of Feel Communications