12/18/2012 06:45 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

Marketing to the Emotions of the Modern Father

When a child is born, no one in the delivery room questions who the baby's mother is. This is a biological known that cannot be refuted. Connect the dots: baby, umbilical cord, mother. We all have belly buttons that serve both as lint catchers, but also as reminders of the bond to your mother, a tattoo that recalls our maternal ancestry, the woman with whom we are biologically united. From the moment when the pregnancy test reveals the "Big Fat Positive," women commence a physical and emotional journey that creates a connection with the child stronger than titanium. All along that journey is a sea of marketers providing moms with services and products that further cement that bond.

We have one belly button, not two. Paternity is not a known. Mother Nature set us up so that the males of our species don't need to be part of the equation for longer than a couple minutes. Yet, more often than not -- and for as long as we have known -- men have stuck around and become fathers, regardless of cultural and socio-economic structures. There is an innate, primal drive that transforms a man to guarantee the success of his offspring.

Guaranteeing the success of his offspring has historically meant providing resources for his family, but in the past few decades, this has changed in westernized societies. Now that women are equally capable breadwinners, men are finding new ways to guarantee offspring success in a competitive world through engagement and caretaking. To marketers (who are finally taking note that fathers are purchasing products typically targeted to moms), finding and tapping into a man's innate, emotional drive as a father is now business critical. Yet, do they know what it is? Can one simply put a football player on a household good (as Tide did recently) and successfully reach the growing nurturing male market? Or does it go deeper than that? Dad bloggers are going to become an influential voice in the coming decade, and if marketers don't understand the father market, dad bloggers will be right there to broadcast their shortcomings.

For the past 18 years, I have been working in Africa as the founder of a wildlife and cultural safari company and a fair trade fashion export company. As a result, I've had an opportunity to steep in the cultures of various tribes and kingdoms, but none as much as the semi-nomadic, warrior cattle keepers known as the Barabaig in Tanzania. The differences to my cultural history were obvious; the Barabaig are openly polygamous. Americans are not. The Barabaig wear beaded leather skins. Americans do not. The Barabaig carry spears and make their houses out of cow dung. Americans do not. Yet, the difference that fascinated me the most was in the role of the men as fathers.

Like many African cultures, Barabaig men come together as respected elders to communally embrace their power and responsibility to initiate the youth (primarily boys) into adulthood. These men were shepherded into manhood by their fathers and are honored to be able to do the same for their children (primarily boys). In America, we, for the most part, have lost the cultural traditions of communal coming-of-age initiation. We have a generation of men who, like the Barabaig, are embracing their power as fathers through engagement. Unlike the Barabaig, these men may not have had a father and community of men who showed them how to be a father in a way that fits our current socio-economic landscape. Thus, I decided to start a retail company focused solely on serving men who embrace today's critical rite of passage of fatherhood.

Over the past year, my team and I at Cooper & Kid have done extensive research on the engaged father market, gleaning insights from books, articles, focus groups, one-on-one interviews and secondary data to determine whether there truly is a market and if so, what they want and need in terms of products, services and messaging. During social media trials, we learned that the engaged father market typically responds best to humor. So, we decided to keep our messaging light and focus on the common denominator of fun. Our first product is the Cooper Kit, a monthly "Dad is Awesome" subscription box for fathers. A few weeks ago, we launched the Cooper Kit on Kickstarter with a comedic video that was scripted, produced and directed by a professional team of dads who want to see our success.

The response to our product by dad reviewers has been well received. However, the response to our Kickstarter campaign messaging has been mixed. Some dads like the light and fun messaging, and others say our messaging does not tug on that emotional drive as a father. Last week, I explained our mission to some people. When I clarified that the Cooper Kit serves the growing and ignored market of engaged fathers, that it is filled with fun activities that both the dad and kid find cool, and that it creates experiences for father and child to explore the greater world together, women's faces lit up. Men agreed it was "cool," yet when I told these men that I started Cooper & Kid because I was inspired by how the Barabaig men as elders initiate their children into adulthood, their faces changed. Their eyes focused and I could tell that I was pulling on that spot right behind their belly button. I was nearly stepping on the innate emotional drive of fatherhood.

The past few weeks has further demonstrated to us that the father market is incredibly complex, as should be expected. Finding the right messaging that speaks to the widest audience of fathers is crucial. While marketers have a few centuries of mom marketing experience to draw upon, marketing to this army of present day fathers is a new frontier where experiments and mistakes will be common. Marketers will learn that to reach the primal forces that drive modern men to override their personal success to focus on the success of their children, it will take more than football players, fun comedy and light-hearted play. They'll need to dive deeper, because fatherhood is meaty stuff.