A stay-at-home dad, offended by a television commercial that made dads look like dummies, has used social media — the same cudgel that forced Bank of America to back off last year from plans to hike fees — to get the makers of Huggies disposable diapers to take the ad off the air.
But the real surprise might be that everybody was very polite about it.
Chris Routly of Allentown, Pa., stays home to care for 3-year-old Tucker and 14-month-old Coltrane while Anna, his wife, uses her engineering degree from Johns Hopkins to support the family.
Huggies launched an ad campaign urging parents to put their products to the "Dad test" by having five moms hand off diaper-changing duties — and all the other duties — to five dads for five days in the same house. Huggies said that would be "the ultimate test."
The ad shows the dads in varying degrees of incompetence and the moms out getting their nails done, and Routly was offended. (I was kind of offended, too. Do they think that's how moms are dying to spend their free time?)
The ad campaign was supposed to "celebrate fatherhood," but Routly wasn't feeling the love.
"As a dad who stays home every day taking care of my children, I don't see myself in these ads at all," said Routly. "Men and women learn from these sorts of things that no matter how much a dad loves his kid, no matter how much he tries to be involved and get his hands dirty with feedings and diapers and anything else, he can't and won't do it right because he is, after all, just a dad."
He saw a couple of online petitions from other stay-at-home dads, and he posted one himself on his blog, Daddy Doctrines.
"Another commercial even touts the ability of HUGGIES to remain leak-free when dad is too busy watching televised sports to change a soiled diaper until after the game," he wrote.
"Is that what HUGGIES thinks dads do? We leave our children in overflowing diapers because sports is more important to us? Really?"
At this point, Change.org stepped in and upped the ante. The website, which seeks to spark social change with online petitions, contacted Routly to see if he would be willing to let it post his.
"I didn't expect it to go the way it did," said Routly in a telephone interview. (The boys were napping.)
Thanks to Change.org, his petition letter showed up on Facebook pages, in Twitter feeds and on Pinterest. It hit 1,000 signatures pretty quickly and then, Routly said, the phone rang. It was the folks at Kimberly-Clark, maker of Huggies.
"The call was very sincere," he said. "They spent a lot of time thanking me for calling them out on this, and the tone I tried to keep. They said they wanted to do right by dads. They really wanted to fix it. I never felt like I was some kind of real pain."
Huggies pulled the ad last week and replaced it with more sympathetic video of the fathers and their children.
In another act of corporate gallantry, it did not remove the negative comments from other dads on its Facebook page. Then executives from the company got on a plane and went to Austin, Texas, last weekend for the Dad 2.0 Summit to do some more listening.
"We were met with welcoming arms," said Joey Mooring, an executive with Kimberly-Clark, in an email response to questions. "They thanked our brand for listening to them and making things right.
"A fact of life is that dads care for their kids just as much as moms do and in some cases are the only caregivers."
He's got that right. According to census figures, dads are the primary caregivers for about a third of all the countyry's children.
Routly, a cartoonist and illustrator who tries to do some work at home, was pretty much stunned at the speed with which this whole thing resolved itself. He called himself an "accidental activist," and it was over in a matter of days. "It had a happy ending quickly," he said.
He's learned plenty about the emerging power of social media, but he's also learned some other lessons along the way.
"I think it would be silly for me to pretend that guys have experienced what women have experienced in the way of prejudice," he said. "But I am the invader now in a lot of traditional women's areas, and my awareness of gender language has skyrocketed."
It has for the guys who run Huggies, too.