Super Bowl 53 was the lowest scoring game in Super Bowl history, and the ads didn’t score many points either. We live tweeted the ads during the big game using our hashtags #MediaWeLike and #NotBuyingIt.
Since we started calling out sexism in Super Bowl ads in 2013, advertisers have slowly improved the portrayal and representation of women in big game ads. But there’s still room for improvement during the largest live media event of the year. At the end of the game, we analyzed the gender and race of the leads in the 97 Super Bowl ads & promo spots that aired during the 28 commercial breaks. Check out the stats and review the ads that we scored as the big winners and losers.
Ads with solo male leads outnumbered those with solo female leads two-to-one:
- Male Leads — 53.3%
- Female Leads — 22.8%
- Male/Female Co-Leads — 23.9%
- Women of color appeared in 8.7% of ads
Advertisers in this year’s game spent $5.25 million for each 30 second spot. And that doesn’t account for production costs or talent (we counted 22 celebrities appearing in ads). Most brands don’t expect a return on their hefty investment, instead hoping to boost awareness of their product (WeatherTech) or favorability of their brand (Budweiser). With more than 100 million viewers tuning in, these ads have tremendous power to influence narratives around gender and race. And while the good news is that only one ad was overtly sexist using hypersexualized images of women’s bodies (Expensify), there were still too few female leads considering how many girls and women were likely watching the game. And with women accounting for 80% of all consumer spending in the U.S., we’re still waiting for advertisers to feature more women as leads in Super Bowl advertising.
The Best of #MediaWeLike:
Toni Harris for Toyota: It goes without saying why we love this ad. It features a real woman, Toni Harris, who is only the second female football player to earn a scholarship to play football in college. Millions of young girls watching the game had an instant role model showing them that their athletic dreams can come true too.
Serena Williams for Bumble: This ad was an all-female produced spot. And while we were scratching our heads a bit that a married Serena chose to appear in an ad for an app most known for online dating, we were thrilled that millions of viewers were treated to another #GOAT athlete who wasn’t appearing in the game itself.
Kids with Different Abilities for Microsoft: This inspiring ad showed boys and girls with various abilities playing Xbox using Microsoft’s adaptive controls. And it showed moms and dads expressing pride and hope through healthy emotions. The ad proclaims that “when everybody plays, we all win.” Well said!
First Responders for Verizon: millions of young boys and girls saw real first responders, including a female EMT, receiving thanks from a real NFL coach who they helped rescue from an emergency. And the male Coach Lynn wells up, showing that it’s healthy to express emotions like gratitude and relief through tears.
Girls Inc. for CBS Cares: “When girls face their challenges, they’re stronger. When girls work together, they realize their value. When girls get to play, they learn to win. CBS Cares and Girls Inc. advocate for and affirm the strengths and abilities of girls.” This was the second spot of the night to feature girls playing football!
The Worst of #NotBuyingIt
Expensify’s Music Video: A first-time Super Bowl advertiser, Expensify blew more than $5 million to (humorously?) illustrate the ease of their corporate expense report tool. The ad trotted out tired old tropes: the only women shown were hypersexualized dancers used as props, and it featured rapper 2 Chainz managed by Adam Scott in a finance role. It felt like an ad executive found a checklist from 2008 and checked a bunch of sad, old Super Bowl ad must-haves to create this ad.
Olay’s #KillerSkin: It’s rare to see a product for a purely female-geared product make a Super Bowl appearance. Olay promised to show us an empowering spot with Sarah Michelle Gellar as the lead. Instead all we saw was a message that our appearance is our salvation, even stopping a serial killer in his tracks.
CBS Sports’ “Dream Big”: This was a promo spot for CBS Sports showing a little boy dreaming about becoming a professional athlete. This ad appeared well after the Toni Harris/Toyota ad reminded us that girls are allowed to dream big too!
Pringles’ “Sad Device”: This was one of a handful of ads featuring a female-voiced artificial intelligence assistant that was troublesome. The male protagonists ponder aloud some vapid potato chip philosophy. And when their disembodied, female-voiced virtual assistant chimes in to bemoan her chipless fate, they quickly order her to play a song – effectively shutting her up. Because…priorities, right?
Amazon Echo’s “Alexa Fails”: In this ad, Amazon starts out by putting Alexa in a microwave and proceeds to highlight several celebrity-studded ‘Alexa Fails.’ Research shows that when it comes to virtual assistants, “consumers are looking for a voice of obedience and subservience, a voice trained take direction, to always be available, always of service. A woman’s voice: the perfect servant.” No thanks.