Famous Father: MBA Alum Makes Headlines with Two-Dad J.C. Penney Ad
“By the way, do you know that you’re on Huffington Post?”
That’s how Todd Koch, MBA ’05 (above, left), and his partner of 13 years, Cooper Smith, learned the photograph of them and their two children in the J.C. Penney Father’s Day catalog had gone viral.
In fact, until a friend called two weeks ago to alert them of their headline-grabbing ad, the Dallas couple wasn’t even sure if J.C. Penney had printed the ad at all.
The image features Koch and Smith with their adopted children Claire and Mason, both three-years-old, horsing around in summer-casual clothes in a stylish living room. The headline “first pals” is followed by copy that reads, “What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver—all rolled into one. Or two.”
It appears in J.C. Penney’s June print and online catalog alongside other photographs depicting real-life dads and kids. In a “first hero” spread, a black father and young son dress up in sheet-capes and Spiderman pajamas. In a “first love” image, a Hispanic bride hugs her dad, who is in a wheelchair.
But Koch and Smith’s shot is the one that’s making news—and stirring up controversy.
Conservative family group One Million Moms has cited the ad—along with a J.C. Penney same-sex Mother’s Day ad and its hiring of Ellen DeGeneres as spokeswoman—as reason to boycott the retailer.
“Even though there’s been controversy and backlash, which we expected, the support we’re getting has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Koch, who runs strategic development and financial planning for Greyhound. “I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, and I’ve had people and parents from my high school contacting me and telling me how proud they are of us. I’ve gotten emails from people who have told me things like, ‘This is a life-changing thing for me. I now realize that I can maybe have a family one day, too.’”
And the frenzy is likely to continue. Koch’s partner Smith, who owns a public relations firm, is working with a J.C. Penney LGBT advisory group, and the couple will ride on the company’s float in the New York City Pride Week parade at the end of June.
But ultimately, Koch doesn’t think the ad is indicative of the company taking a particular stance on an issue, other than broadening the picture of what the American family—J.C. Penney’s core customers—looks like.
“I think they’re taking a progressive stance on the American family being a diverse group—different types of families,” Koch says. “Are they marketing to get more people into their stores? Of course. That’s what stores are in business for. But at the same time, they’re trying to be as inclusive about it as possible.”
So how did he find himself the star of a national campaign and the center of a controversy?
It all started with Facebook.
A friend who works for a local casting agency pulled their family Christmas card (left) from Facebook and submitted it to J.C. Penney. The company was immediately interested, and Todd, Cooper, Claire and Mason spent a rather unglamorous day in February shooting photographs in a staged house in Dallas, surrounded by a 25-person crew.
Their response when they finally saw the photograph in the catalog was what any parent hopes for after getting dressed up and wrangling the kids for the camera.
“We thought the picture itself was a great depiction of our family,” Koch says. “It wasn’t staged. That’s kind of how we actually act with our kids. “It was really a snapshot and a moment of time in our lives with our children.”
When they’re not acting as models in national catalog shoots (that was a first for any of them), Koch says the family enjoys their annual beach vacation to Hilton Head, S.C., and riding bikes and playing tennis at their neighborhood park. The couple started a Dallas networking group for same-sex parents called 2 Daddies, 1 Love, 2 Mommies, 1 Love. Koch says he originally wanted four to five children, but after adopting two babies in three months, he’s just fine with two kids.
As a father, he’s happy to be able to give a home to his daughter and son, and delights in the unconditional love children at that age still heap on their parents.
And most of all, he loves being part of a family, especially because there was a time in his life when he thought it would never be possible.