Research inspires Super Bowl ad

Pantene commercials are usually filled with models tossing around their glossy hair. However, Pantene took a different turn in their advertising choices during Super Bowl 50.

The hair care company’s advertisements featured three NFL players — New Orleans Saints’ Benjamin Watson, Pittsburgh Steelers’ DeAngelo Williams and Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Witten — attempting to do their young daughter’s hair. Featuring the hashtag #StrongisBeautiful, the dads name the various hairstyles “Dad-dos”.

The point of the commercial is to emphasize that father-daughter relationships can have lasting effects on girls’ mental health and attitudes. In fact, the research that Pantene based these commercials on comes from Wake Forest’s very own professor, Linda Nielsen.

Nielsen’s years at Wake Forest have mostly focused on compiling existing research about fathers and daughters and conducting her own research. She has written two books: Between Fathers & Daughters: Enriching & Rebuilding Your Adult Relationship and Father-Daughter Relationships: Contemporary Research & Issues.

Nielsen also teaches classes at Wake Forest focused specifically on the relationships between fathers and daughters, especially in the early stages of childhood. Her research has shown that healthy father-daughter interaction lead to stronger women with more self-esteem and fewer issues later in life.

Nielsen was first informed of the commercial via email from Pantene’s Public Relations Director Aja Silvas, who told Nielsen that her research was being used in their new #StrongisBeautiful campaign, which promotes healthy father-daughter relationships.

“I had nothing to do with the creation of the commercials,” Nielsen said, “but I think they’re excellent.”

According to Pantene, they found some of Nielsen’s articles online and thought they provided an excellent opportunity for a new kind of advertisement.

“When we discovered research done by Dr. Linda Nielsen from Wake Forest, revealing that quality time spent with dads is key in raising daughters who are more

self-confident, self-reliant and more successful in school and in their careers, we wanted to do something to encourage dads to do stuff with their daughters,” said Jodi Allen, the vice president of hair care and color at Pantene.

“We didn’t want to just say ‘spend time with your daughter;’ Pantene wanted to give them a tangible thing they could do: style their hair. So many empowerment campaigns just tell you to be empowered. Pantene wanted to show them.”

The hashtag for the commercials is #StrongisBeautiful and at the end of each one, the screen reads “Girls who spend quality time with their dads grow up to be stronger women.” Each shows an NFL player trying to do his daughter’s hair.

As Saints player Benjamin Watson says in the advertisement, “If you’re a father and you only have so many hours in the day, maybe doing their hair is one of the things that you can do to connect with them and to build that relationship.”

The commercials reflect Nielsen’s research, which states that “well-fathered daughters are usually more self-confident, more self-reliant, and more successful in school and in their careers than poorly fathered daughters.”

Nielsen began her research as an adolescent psychologist, but became interested in teenage girl’s relationships with their fathers — since that is when problems start. Nielsen found that many issues could be avoided if fathers paid attention to positive interactions with daughters in early childhood. “[A] strong father-daughter relationship has to start when the girls are young,” Nielsen said. “The conclusion of my research is exactly what they showed in those commercials.”

For Wake Forest students interested in learning more about Nielsen’s research, many of her studies can be found online. In addition, she teaches a Fathers and Daughters course, geared towards exploring and explaining that relationship.

These advertisements mark a change in the usual commercials that display father-daughter relationships.

“People need to understand that these commercials are very atypical because usually fathers are portrayed negatively,” Nielsen said. “These commercials are exceptional — they are defying the stereotypes that other commercials perpetuate.”

Additionally, these ads feature NFL players in a positive light, where they are actively engaged with their children. Given the recent negative press the NFL has received, from cheating scandals to domestic violence cases, watching NFL players care for their daughters and treat them gently is a real change.