While you may be surprised to hear that women made up 45% of the Super Bowl’s audience this year, this rising number likely explains why this year’s Super Bowl had more female-targeted ads than any year before. Commercials during sports games are generally geared not just towards men, but towards a stereotype: the most rugged, athletic, and manly of men You know, the beer-drinking truck-drivers. Even the Super Bowl, an event known for its creative commercials, followed this basic algorithm of marketing in the past; sports games are “for men” so the target audience of ads should be men too. Even though 25% of Super Bowl ads have featured women in the past, the majority of these women were objectified or used as tools to garner men’s attention. That changed radically this year. Not only were there more commercials targeted specifically at women, but even the ads targeted toward men began to move away from typical gender roles and stereotypes.
The NFL aired a commercial celebrating its 100th anniversary, which starred many football icons. This commercial began with a room full of men, just as you would expect from a sport without a professional women’s league; however, the mood quickly changed as 15-year-old female Sam Gordon came out and restored order to the chaotic scene. Sam Gordon is perfectly representative of the changing climate exemplified through this year’s Super Bowl ads. Upon facing a lack of opportunities for girls to play tackle football, Sam started the Utah Girl’s Football League, and only three years later, her league has grown to 400 girls. Sam also won the inaugural NFL Game Changer Award last year. She is breaking boundaries, empowering other girls to join her, and getting noticed on a big scale. Although the NFL’s ad was still promoting an all-male organization, its shout-out to Sam was a perfect lead-in to the rest of the night’s female-driven ads.
In addition to commercials featuring women, this year’s Super Bowl aired the first Super Bowl commercials of many female oriented companies. In the past, these companies may have felt that it would have been a waste to advertise at the Super Bowl (or that viewers would perceive it as such). This year, however, female-targeted commercials came out in force. Bumble’s commercial featuring Serena Williams addressed the exclusion of women in many fields head-on. Williams remarks in the commercial, “If I had waited to be invited in, I never would have stood out.” These first steps display women’s bold presence at the Super Bowl—women who arrived even without a formal invitation. Bumble’s methodology empowers women by asking them to make the first move. This methodology translated Serena Williams’ career perfectly into an effective, moving Super Bowl ad. Bumble knows that women are watching—and it’s calling them out. This commercial serves as a call to action, letting women know that they are seen and that the world is changing.
These ads, in addition to the many more ground-breaking, female-targeted commercials, portray women in a new, more accurate light. Women are depicted as powerful and as a true part of “the scene”— not just as the traditional housewife stereotype or an object of male desires. Although these commercials may not seem to make a tangible change, and while there is still a lot more room for growth within this movement, this monumental year cannot be overlooked. The most significant impact of these commercials is the discussions they have provoked. The collective noise they have started will hopefully continue to grow as these commercials are discussed more and more and, ideally, lead to even more similar commercials—and female empowerment—in the future.