“A little bit of love you can wrap your baby in:” Mothers, Fathers, Race, and Representations of Nurturing in 1960s–1970s Pampers Advertising
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“A little bit of love you can wrap your baby in:”
Mothers, Fathers, Race, and Representations of Nurturing in 1960s–1970s Pampers Advertising

During the late 1960s and 1970s, advertising agencies and their household product clients slowly became convinced that the longstanding, stereotypical, representations of women as housewives would no longer be palatable to consumers.1 For even the most mainstream of female consumers, Second Wave feminism had fundamentally called into question advertisings’ images of women in aprons and high heels, entranced by their newly waxed floor. So ad makers turned to images of and rhetoric about women as mothers, utilizing more culturally acceptable representations of women as “moms” caring for their families, rather than housewives cleaning their houses.2 This article traces the emergence of one brand in particular that relied on images and representations of female nurturing to sell its product as an expression of care during this pivotal era in American advertising. Advertising for the first disposable diapers in the United States—Pampers—utilized images of loving mothers and, occasionally, fathers to reiterate dominant domestic ideology, couching its marketing message in an emotional appeal that reinforced the dominant domestic ideology by feminizing household labor generally and baby care specifically not as “work” but as a manifestation of a mother’s love and care for the family.

Of course, in real life, changing a diaper is often an expression of love. Taking care of an infant’s most basic needs is an essential component of parent-child bonding. But it also undeniably requires labor that includes dealing with another person’s urine and feces, as well as clothing, linens, and bedding soiled by urine and feces. 1960s and 1970s Pampers advertising drew a misty motherly veil over that reality, rarely even obliquely suggesting that the product might help relieve the more unpleasant aspects of diapering. It depicted cleaning up infants’ bodily wastes almost exclusively in terms of a highly idealized image of women as mothers, that is, caretakers and guardians of the family’s health and well being. Consumers appeared to readily embrace this depiction of disposable diapers, quickly responding to the marketing and making Pampers a successful product.

In Pampers advertising, the image of a mother lovingly tending her baby using this product included nonwhite women as well. 1960s and 1970s Pampers advertising illustrates how ad makers and their clients in the late twentieth century began to pay more attention to expanding the markets for domestic-related products by crossing racial boundaries. African American and Latina mothers providing the best possible care for their babies also appeared in the earliest Pampers marketing.

But ad creators for Pampers did not ignore fathers altogether. They reinforced the Pampers brand image not just with images of loving mothers (white, African American, and Latina) and their happy babies, but also with images of fathers. Early print ads and television commercials included a nod to Dad and to the possibility that he might, occasionally at least, change a diaper. Yet such advertising did not really portray fathers as equal parents and caregivers, in no small part because such representations often appeared in the guise of humor. Although sometimes containing complex and contradictory messages about how well a man might care for his child, these guest appearances by fathers ultimately reinforced a marketing message positioning Pampers as an expression of Mom’s love and care.

Care, Not Convenience: Marketing the First Disposable Diapers

In 1887, the first mass produced cloth diapers appeared on the market in the U.S. but not until the twentieth century did the humble diaper enjoy any further innovations: the first diaper services in the 1940s; the 1946 invention of the “Boater,” a waterproof covering for cloth diapers; the first pin-less snap-on diaper in 1950; and in the 1950s a new fold that added an extra layer for better fit and absorption. In the 1930s and 1940s, some companies sold paper or gauze pads that could be inserted into cloth diapers, and in 1948, Johnson and Johnson introduced the precursor to the modern disposable diaper: a single piece with layers of tissue paper inside and a plastic film outside. But it was the home...