There are many truths in the world, but perhaps one of the more important ones (especially at this time of year) is that, under no circumstance, should you go anywhere near a shopping mall on the 23rd or (gasp!) the 24th of December. It’s for your own good. As the countdown to Christmas hurdles toward its joyful end, retail centres and big box complexes across North America devolve—if the legends are to be believed—into carnage-filled gladiator pits of last-minute shoppers scavenging through the picked-over bathrobes, neckties and open-box toaster ovens. A recent TV ad from Walmart, which looks at this yearly phenomenon, is causing many to wonder, is everyone madly scrambling for gifts...or just the dads?
If the offending Walmart Christmas commercial is to be believed, dopey dads everywhere have been sitting around staring vacantly into their coffee cups all month, completely oblivious to the twinkling lights, festive cheer and rampant consumerism going on around them. In the 30-second spot that’s got people riled up online, the dad’s son checks off the 23rd day on his Advent calendar and then cheerfully declares, “It’s almost Christmas, Dad!” Then, like Blitzen caught in the headlights, the beardy father miraculously shakes off his December funk and, with a tap and a swipe, is saved by ordering up some prezzies on Walmart’s shopping app.
On cue, “It’s Raining Men” fires up as dude after dude lines up to the Walmart pickup desk to grab their gifts—our smiling protagonist and son included. Then, in a surprise twist, the last dad walks away revealing a woman(!) next in line, to which the girl at the counter gives a quizzical look as if to say, “What are you doing here with all these...men?!”
It’s enough to make a grown man cry, which I will not do because I’m a man, dammit, and real men don’t cry, right? When I saw the ad, my knee-jerk reaction was mild outrage. It’s just another “dumb dad” bait-and-switch trope, playing off a sexist stereotype to show consumers a “common” problem and Walmart’s miraculous solution. Dumb guy is a victim of his own dumbness—smart company rescues him—I get it.
But on the other hand, and at the risk of betraying all my bros out there, my outrage kinda subsided when I thought back to the times over the years when I have been that beardy guy in a last-minute panic to get that one-remaining bathrobe for my wife (sorry, sweetheart, I was weaker back then). I guess I’m more bothered by the tactics than I am by the actual ad. The stereotype is not so much untrue as it is played out.
Maybe they could approach it more from the “dads (and moms!) are busy professionals and their shopping gets back-burnered till the last minute” angle. Don’t make it look like we’ve just been sitting on our arses staring blankly into the middle distance all month, waiting for our kids to slap us into the holidays. I did nearly all my shopping online this year and (hold on to your Santa hats, folks!) finished early! Between Amazon and other apps and services like the Walmart one, it’s easier than ever for hapless dads to shed the stereotype, so I think it’s high time retailers and advertisers out there shed it, too.