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Are Wal-Mart Moms Single Moms?

A reader pointed us to this Wal-Mart commercial, in which a mom stocks her daughter's new dorm room with pink towels, a purple desk set, and an ugly rug. But where's Dad?

A second commercial depicts moms moving their sons in, but again, no dads. We can't find online — but will be psyched if you can — a third spot in which Mom buys her son everything he wants and needs for college, including a fridge to hold his... soda. Is Wal-Mart specifically targeting the single mom demographic here? Or do they just assume that taking care of kids' college furnishings — like making dinner — is a woman's job?

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Perhaps new research from the Wal-Mart Institute of Shoppingology (that is, a survey released by Wal-Mart on Tuesday) offers a clue. The survey says mom and kids have similar fears about college — top concerns are having enough money, doing well academically, and dealing with stress. What do dads worry about when their kids go to school? We don't know, because Wal-Mart didn't ask them. Clearly Wal-Mart thinks moms are the ones buying the weird brightly colored storage containers to go under their kids' beds — and the "fun and lightweight compact fridge" to help students "avoid the dreaded cafeteria by keeping healthy drinks and snacks handy." Right.

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Interestingly, Target moms appear to have partners, but they don't help with childcare. Let's watch a recent Target ad, starring "Lisa":

Lisa's dude shows up to make out with her (if she chews Orbit gum), but he isn't around when she's pushing that stroller up the hill. In another Target ad, Jennifer's "lover" will pet her cats (gingerly), but he sure won't entertain their (or her?) son while she tries to do yoga. Target's basically painting a picture of a woman who has a man in her life, but is still primarily responsible for raising — and shopping for — her child.

We're sure Shoppingologists at Wal-Mart and Target have done their market research, and perhaps determined that women make more child-related purchases than men do. But would it kill them to depict — or survey — a few involved dads? If they'd asked my dad his biggest fear when I went off to college, I'm not sure what he would have said. But my biggest fear was that he was going to give me The Talk on the drive up. My solution: a half hour out of LA, I sweetly asked, "Dad, what's postmodernism?" That kept us busy all the way to the Bay Area. Now where's our commercial?

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Walmart "College Dorm Room" 2009 TV Commercial [YouTube]
Target "Jennifer Shops Target" 2009 TV Commercial [YouTube]
Target Commercial July 2009 [YouTube]
Walmart Survey Reveals College Freshmen And Their Moms Share Surprisingly Similar Fears About Transition To College Life [iStockAnalyst]

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DISCUSSION

When I went to college, my mom was concerned about all the little aspects of my day to day life, and what products could be purchased to make them easier. She's still like this. Seriously, I once had a conversation with my mom about how I'd never bought a pen holder, and she was flummuxed ("but then WHERE do you keep them?!"). I recently admitted to her that my tiny apartment kitchen only has one drawer and very little cabinet space ("but where do you put all your cookware and utensils" Ummm, right, cookware and utensils. I'll get right on that.). My dad couldn't care less about any of this, and if he did weigh in, it would be to question whether decorative/organizational stuff is worth the money.

But honestly, I think this is more an issue of a consumerist culture than anything else. Walmart and Target want push this idea of a whole world of "dorm-centric" products, and moms are more receptive to that argument, for a variety of reasons, than dads. But my first college roommate was from India. She showed up with a suitcase and a sleeping bag. I think at some point she bought a lamp. She was fine. MOM.