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Forget the Fishing Pole, Today’s Dads Want a Yoga Mat for Father’s Day

Who's your daddy? If you go by most Father's Day marketing, he's a good old-fashioned man's man. He likes to watch sports, grill meat, and hang out in the garage fixing stuff. Maybe he's got a man cave where he keeps his fine Scotch, his Bowflex, and a PlayStation.

When you look at it from a big picture perspective, Father's Day messaging hasn't really changed all that much over the years, and that could be a problem. Marketers may be failing to reach the modern, millennial dad who changes diapers, does the grocery shopping, and doesn’t need a mug to remind him that he’s the world’s greatest dad.

Image: Father and son practice yoga together at sunset
A father and son practice yoga together at sunset on the beach. Nadezhda1906 / iStockphoto - Getty Images

"From a marketer’s perspective, the shifting role of the modern day dad calls for much more than the run-of-the-mill tie on Father’s Day," said Adam Binder, founder of Creative Click Media. "With dads spending less time at the office and more time at home with the kids, we can expect to see more Father’s Day gifts tailored towards promoting family time such as tickets for a family outing or new gadgets for the home; in addition, as the perception of men as the sole provider is changing, so is the perception that fathers should be hunting, fishing handymen. Shoppers this Father’s Day might be more inclined to skip out on the fishing poles in favor of men’s grooming kits or even yoga mats."

A dad is not a fumbling adult child watching the kids until the real parent gets home.

And yet, what do you see on the front pages of Father's Day events from Amazon, Target, and Sears? Grills, drills, and yes, ties.

It’s not that millennial dads flat out don’t want this stuff — it’s that their interests are more diverse and less old-fashioned. They may even want something like, well, a diaper bag.

“As a dad, I'm interested in having great back support while wearing my baby,” La Guardia Cross, dad and YouTuber behind New Father Chronicles told NBC News, adding that he’s into “incredibly compact strollers, a car seat that goes up to age 18, and diaper bags that don't look corny. I've had random conversations about diaper bag styles with dads in the grocery store and I personally know stay-at-home dads. This is the new normal, most apparently with millennial dads. We've come a long way as parents, but we're still waiting for retailers to evolve with us. A dad is not a fumbling adult child watching the kids until the real parent gets home. A dad is a partner and a teammate, if not going in alone.”

Diaper Changing and Coupon Clipping

Cross points to a new study by WaterWipes that found that 93 percent of millennial dads have woken in the night, at least once, to change their baby's diaper.

“This means that dads are actively sharing in the joys of sleep loss and a rogue baby poo stain on the finger,” said Cross. The study also found that 75 percent of millennial dads say they've changed more diapers than their fathers did.

And it’s not just changing diapers — dads are also clipping (or downloading) coupons. According to new research by Valassis, 96 percent of dads use coupons versus 90 percent of all adults. Dads are also outpacing moms when it comes to coupon apps (81 percent of dads use them versus 62 percent of moms), as well as in-store rewards apps (74 percent dads versus 54 percent moms), shopping list apps (69 percent dads versus 48 percent moms), and deal comparison apps (66 percent dads versus 41 percent moms).

Kendal Perez, savings expert for CouponSherpa.com, adds that according to a 2015 study from Y&R, 80 percent of millennial fathers do the grocery shopping or share the task of grocery shopping for their household.

Rise of the Helicopter Dads

Faye Crosby, a social psychologist and a professor at UCSC, finds that the boosted investment of today's fathers in the nitty-gritty aspects of family life is partly owed to the fact that we live in a more complex, and often dangerous world.

"Unless you're in a gated community or you have five nannies, you don't let your kids go play in the street like parents once did," Crosby told NBC News. "Parenting responsibilities are different as our social environment has changed and we've become so much more urbanized. Consider the amount of vehicles on the road alone — kids require more [supervision], and there's more thought on how to keep them safe while also providing a good life where they can have fun, learn, and grow."

Crosby points out that the “Beaver Cleaver” family model doesn’t much exist anymore as Mom works just like Dad does. And just like Mom, Dad is a hands-on parent who actually enjoys being with his family. This is a key concept that hasn’t been digested by mainstream retailers — if it was, Father’s Day could be as popular as Mother’s Day.

Father’s Day Pales in Comparison to Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day has over 12 million hashtags on Instagram; Father’s Day has just over 5 million. Even if it doubles in number by Sunday, it will still lag behind the other parental holiday. Next, consider the spending facts: in 2016, the NRF predicted that Father’s Day spending would reach a record high of $14.3 billion; that same year Mother’s Day spending was expected to shatter records by reaching $21.4 billion.

Lars Perner, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the Marshall School of Business at USC, notes that Father's Day has always been less of a retail sensation than Mother's Day.

“There's never been as much brand advertising around Father's Day," Perner told NBC News. "Father's Day has been an important event, but it's not in the league of Mother's Day. Fathers just don't quite match [mothers]."

This seems a bit unfair to millennial dads who are stepping up to the plate in a pretty profound way. Perhaps Father’s Day could pick up some steam if it focused more on what millennial dads want: experiences with the family.

The Gift of Experience

“Dads are looking for experiences with the family," said Curtis Tingle, ‎CMO at Valassis. "That's where gifts should lean: experiences as a family, and the gift family time.”

This gift of family time may sound corny, but it’s exactly what Sal Garro, a millennial and stay-at-home dad based in Brooklyn is hoping for this Father’s Day.

“In my opinion, being with family is all that really matters,” Garro told NBC News, adding that Father’s Day messaging doesn’t at all appeal to him as he doesn’t care for any of the grills or ties being advertised.

UCSC’s Crosby feels that what retailers should be pushing this Father’s Day is deals on activities that bring the family together.

“I think the retail aspect should focus on the ability of Dad — whether he's single, traditional, gay, or whatever — to be with his children,” said Crosby. “Don't give him something that sends him far away on his own. [Enable] him to connect with the family and be a part of things: that will be his greatest joy.”