Every year when the Super Bowl draws closer, we talk about how brands are making small strides in an effort to showcase women in a more positive, powerful light. Here we are again this year, and although Super Bowl LIV is going to have one major milestone—with the first female and openly gay NFL coach, Katie Sowers, taking to the field with the San Francisco 49ers—there are still big strides to be made for the Super Bowl’s advertising to be more inclusive and less gendered. Microsoft is even using its 60-second spot this year to tell her story.
The NFL hired its first female Chief Marketing Officer, Dawn Hudson, in 2017, although she’s since stepped down. But in any case, since her appointment—coupled with the impact of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements—we’ve seen brands step back from the traditional, stereotypical gendered advertising that used to plague the industry’s biggest day of the year.
We wanted to see how viewers really feel about how they’re being marketed to during the Super Bowl, so Berlin Cameron and Perksy partnered on a 1,000 person gen-pop study on Super Bowl sentiment. Here’s what we found:
Women can and should be marketed to. Women make up very close to half the audience on game day and they’re actually watching for the ads. In our poll, 63% of women named the ads as one of the primary reasons to watch the game. Add to that the fact that women manage 85% of consumer purchases in their households and hold 60% of the personal wealth in the country, and you have more than enough reasons to market to them during the biggest advertising day of the year. Last year, companies like P&G, Stella and Bumble were amongst those who spoke to women.
We’re still not seeing enough advertising that addresses women directly, though. Women don’t feel that Super Bowl ads speak to them, with 53% responding that the female brand advertising should increase. And moreover, even though the woman-as-sex-symbol trope is disappearing, women don’t feel that they’re being accurately represented in ads. Only 33% of our entire audience (of both men and women) thought that women are accurately represented in Super Bowl ads.
Let’s applaud brands like Secret for its "All Strength, No Sweat" campaign showcasing US Women’s soccer stars Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn kicking a winning football field goal, and Olay for its #MakeSpaceforWomen campaign featuring fearless women like Taraji P. Henson, Busy Phillips and Lilly Singh for taking strides in the right direction.
Representation matters. 61% of people felt that the social causes that Super Bowl ads should be centered around are the representation and tolerance of all people and 43% of people felt that they should be around equal representation of women. But it stretches even beyond that: There should be more equal representation of race, gender, and ability. Last year, Microsoft’s "We All Win" commercial featuring children with limited mobility playing video games with their Adaptive Controller was heartwarming and uplifting. Or Google’s "The Power of Translation" spot that reminded us that, no matter what language we speak, we’re all humans who want most to say "thank you" and "I love you."
We also need more female-founded brands represented. I was thrilled to hear from HINT founder Kara Goldin that the fruit-infused water brand is running its first Super Bowl commercial, which she promises to be funny and on-brand. According to Goldin, they’re the smallest brand and the only female-founded brand on the roster. That’s a huge accomplishment—but let’s try to get more female-founded brands on the docket in the coming years!
Investing in a cause is money well spent. ¾ of our respondents saying that some Super Bowl ads should focus on social causes (with "respect and tolerance for ALL people" as the highest-ranked issue to highlight). In 2019, Verizon honored first responders by telling the stories of several NFL players whose lives were saved, and Budweiser touted green energy by highlighting the benefits of wind power. This year, Michelob Ultra is stepping up, dedicating a portion of every 6-pack of its Pure Gold label sold to help transition 6 square feet of farmland to certified organic farmland. We’re also looking to the NFL itself, which is shedding a light on social justice and police shootings with its "Inspire Change" ad featuring former football player Anquan Boldin, whose cousin was shot and killed by a police officer in 2015. WeatherTech, meanwhile, is raising money for the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, which treated the brand’s unofficial mascot Scout and brought him back to health after the dog received a cancer diagnosis.
Causes are great, but let’s keep politics out of the Super Bowl. Only 8% of those polled want to see political ads. Both Mike Bloomberg and Donald Trump set to run Presidential campaign ads during this year’s game, making it impossible for the event to be politics-free this year. Even most brands are reportedly avoiding political messaging.
In times of unrest, humor resonates. When asked what matters to them most in Super Bowl ads, 91% of our respondents answered humor. Budweiser bringing back their "Wassup" campaign in 2020, and brands like Cheetos also playing into the nostalgia factor with MC Hammer are sure to deliver on that front. Super Bowl ads can still be a great escape, as long as they’re not objectifying or excluding certain groups.
We can and should be doing more. Things have gotten better, but we have a long way to go. We got insightful feedback from our respondents about how to inspire change, including more female leadership in the NFL so that women are better represented on and off the field. One respondent urged advertisers to "think outside the box! It would be really amazing if they included more women...who are minorities, and especially disabled women." And one comment might crystallize this conversation: "Finally get rid of the assumption that women are disinterested. Start making advertisements more gender neutral and less sexist." In other words, start treating ALL people like equal viewers who are worthy of the (very expensive) advertising time.
Jenniver DaSilva is president at Berlin Cameron.