Super Bowl ads missed the mark on diversity

The industry’s male dominance was on display during this year’s game.

Scrolling through my Twitter feed on Sunday night, I sifted through tons of conversations about the ads that aired during Super Bowl LV. 

The comments ranged from celebration to backlash. Why was Mila Kunis and Asthon Kutchers’ acting so bad in the Cheetos’ spot? Did you catch the Reddit ad? Can I have a Michael B. Jordan Alexa? When is the Edgar Scissorhands movie coming out? (OK, that last one was me.) 

But if you were following along, there was another important conversation happening during the game that focused on the lack of diversity apparent in, and behind the scenes of, each ad that aired. 

The 3% Conference’s Super Bowl Tweet Up (#3PercentSB) took place for its eighth year, flooding our feeds with necessary callouts about how each ad performed on diversity. 

Just three women and “at most” five people of color directed this year’s Super Bowl ads, making up less than 10% of the 87 ads that ran during the game, per an AdAge analysis.

According to production company The Cortez Brothers, that’s compared to 42 men who directed 95% of the spots during this year’s game. Meanwhile, just three Black men directed Super Bowl ads, making up 7% of all directors working on ads this year.

So it’s no wonder, then, that we ended up with spots like Bud Light’s Avengers-style cameo from its spokespeople of yore — all men. And an ad from Logitech that tacitly assumes all “creators” are under 40.

Other ads fell into stereotypes and tropes. Tide’s ‘The Jason Alexander Hoodie’ was called out for typecasting the typical dirty teenage boy and mom doing laundry. Dr. Squatch tried to turn stereotypes about being “manly” on its head, but the effort fell flat. And Squarespace was called out for glorifying “hustle culture,” which particularly irked working women who are struggling with burnout more than any other demographic during the pandemic.

Overall, male celebrities dominated the ads (Tracey Morgan, Matthew McConaughey, Timotheé Chalamet, Will Ferrell, Bruce Springsteen, Michael B. Jordan, Jason Alexander, John Cena, Daveed Diggs, Dan Levy, Drake, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Brad Garrett) with a few women taking secondary roles (Awkwafina, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Cardi B). Amy Schumer and Maya Rudolph were the only female actors to snag lead roles.

Not all of Sunday’s work was called out for a lack of attention paid to diversity. Amazon’s ‘Alexa’s Body’ was praised for taking a female lens to sexuality (although Amazon suggesting we should have sexual feelings for our devices is a little odd), while Cadillac was celebrated for a diverse creative team behind its ad, ‘ScissorHandsFree.’

Some work was more egregious than others, particularly the NFL ad that flew in the face of “brand authenticity” by preaching a commitment to diversity.

But, overall, Sunday’s line-up fell short of the commitments this industry has so boldly made. The ads were a reflection of the people behind the scenes making them, and it was a reflection many felt were left out of.

Some people will say the Super Bowl is all about the fun, the wacky and the inane. It’s about celebrating creativity for the magic that it is.

But this industry made some very serious statements about improving its commitment to diversity and inclusion last year, and that means calling attention to it in every big moment — even in the fun and the celebratory.

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