Amit K Shrivastava
Guest Article

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

Why is Pampers’ ‘Dads for Virat’ ad going viral? It has a lot to do with way we appraise fatherhood today.

Why is India in love with an ad in which dads show Virat Kohli how to change diapers? While at first glance the reason may appear shallow – Virat’s popularity, the nation’s preoccupation with Anushka Sharma’s pregnancy, our love for cricket, etc. – the answer is more deep-rooted. Pampers seems to have tapped into an interesting new narrative of fatherhood in India. Our guest author surmises...

Over the last two decades, one started noticing an interesting shift in focus group discussions. While introducing themselves, urban Indian women started saying – ‘I am just a housewife’. Though the ‘just’ was not necessarily emphasised, it was a discernible addition.

While the desire for economic independence amongst women had been gaining ground since the ‘90s, the reality of married Indian women, well into the 21st century remained unchanged. If they did get a chance to work, majority had to give up their careers due to marriage or motherhood.

This was clearly making them rethink or even resent their identities as homemakers and mothers. Our studies began to show that women were feeling trapped in a role that kept them out of step with the changing world. Not only was the economic issue important, but also one of their personal development. Homemaking was becoming ‘just homemaking’.

Marketers of homemaking brands, who had been celebrating the ‘smart home manager’ all this while realised they needed to shift the narrative.

The early steps involved ‘repositioning’ her role, and abilities, in homemaking as being more than what it had been traditionally.

The Bournvita mom transformed from the one lovingly placing a glass of milk on her child’s desk to a hard-driving coach, challenging her kids to step up their game.

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…
Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

The Brooke Bond Taaza homemaker realised her ordinary homemaking skills had greater possibilities.

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

And P&G, in the powerful ‘Thank you mom’ campaign saluted mothers as makers of champions.

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

From there onwards, if we look at P&G’s work across its portfolio, it is a story of this narrative being taken forward. Addressing the conflicts caused by the changing gender dynamics.

Pantene raised the issue of how strong, successful women were stereotyped negatively at the work place.

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…
Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

While Gillette, in a campaign that created much controversy, asked men to recognise toxic masculine tendencies that had been so normalised, they were hardly noticed.

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

In the Indian context, perhaps one of their most interesting pieces of work raised a provocative question – Why is washing clothes at home only a woman’s job?

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

P&G also started a global content project called MOTH (Man of the house). Its purpose: to provide men with advice on how to handle some very new responsibilities (such as – talking to the daughter about her periods).

With the urban Indian family nuclearised, the focus moved towards the role of the husband. His inability to share the homemaking load was a key factor in holding the woman back from achieving her potential outside the home.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of this narrative is his role as a father. Unlike other aspects of home making, this issue is deeply emotional.

Traditionally, Indian fathers have been distant, authoritative figures. Their primary identity being one of the bread winner and a strict enforcer. With shifts in masculinity ideals, however, brands began talking about the caring father long ago. This was a manifestation of the modern man being in touch with his feminine, nurturing instincts.

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…
Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

With the changing aspirations of the woman however, new-age fatherhood acquired a ‘load sharing’ dimension. Not just something a father wanted to do, but something, that as a husband, he needed to do, to relieve the mother of the burden. Again, an outcome of the increasingly nuclear structure of the family and fewer hands to help nurture the child.

Virat Kolhi, India’s ‘new dad’ stories, and the leap from duty to desire…

In the last few years however, our studies with dads show the emergence of another need. To have a deeper connect with their child. Keen to transition from being just a financial provider to, additionally, an emotional provider. Some of it possibly stemming from the fact that the financial provider role is no longer an exclusively male domain.

However, it is also rooted in their desire to have a connection with their child that they wished they had with their father. The father-son equation is India has tended to be more devoid of affection than the father-daughter one. As these sons become fathers now, they are looking to address the issue.

Virat Kohli’s decision to fly back mid-series for his child’s birth has drawn comparisons with Sunil Gavaskar’s choice of not doing so. Both legendary sportsmen of their respective time, but both reflect very different identities and priorities as fathers.

Amit K Shrivastava
Amit K Shrivastava

P&G’s latest communication for Pampers has smartly tapped into this story. Where fathers (not mothers) tell fathers-to-be, how to do it right.

Is it the modern husband sharing these responsibilities, the metrosexual male in touch with his feminine side or the new father wanting a connect he wishes he had with his father? Like in so many aspects of life perhaps, a bit of both… and more.

(The author is director at Learning Curve, a Gurugram-based brand consultancy.)