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Super Bowl Features Most Sexist Ads Yet

Sydney Golombek |
February 5, 2013 | 10:23 a.m. PST


One out of every two televisions in America tuned in to watch the 2013 Super Bowl. Viewers crowded around their TV sets not just for the game, but for the increasingly popular Super Bowl ads that today cost upwards of four million dollars per thirty second slot. During these short commercial breaks, entertainment is guaranteed—but this year, viewers got more than they bargained for. Sex sells, but somewhere down the line, sexism became a marketing strategy for big brands, effectively perpetuating stereotypical gender roles and insulting both femininity and masculinity.

Big brands generated backlash with their sexist Super Bowl ads. (Scott Beale, Creative Commons)
Big brands generated backlash with their sexist Super Bowl ads. (Scott Beale, Creative Commons)

Probably the most offensive of the ads, Go Daddy’s sex-saturated commercial depicts a supermodel kissing a nerd. Model Bar Refaeli plays the role of a “sexy” woman while the nerd plays the role of a “smart” man. Refaeli functions as eye candy while the nerd functions as useful and intelligent.

Clearly, the ad is directed toward a male audience, fulfilling a sexual fantasy of sorts. But why is the woman the sex object and the man the brains? A woman could never have a smart idea, start a business, or register her own website, right? This is certainly the message Go Daddy sends by having a woman sit and look hot, while the man does the work. She clearly can’t be both attractive and smart.

According to social TV analytics company, Bluefin Labs, Go Daddy’s ad generated the most negative social media attention of any ad (with a 34 percent negative response in the first 45 minutes after airing), making it the least popular of all ads. Hmm… maybe because half of the viewers tuned in were women.

But Go Daddy wasn’t the only culprit. Audi’s Super Bowl ad depicts a dateless high school boy, suddenly invincible when given the keys to his father’s Audi. His younger sister emasculates him, teasing him for going stag to the prom. The boy’s father tosses him the keys to his car, after which the boy drives recklessly and parks in the principal’s spot. Upon arriving at the prom, the boy strides onto the dance floor and kisses his crush without her consent.

Good thing speeding, parking in the wrong spot and kissing a girl without her permission makes him feel like a man. The girl smiles toward the end of the kiss, perpetuating the rape myth that if you keep going, the woman will eventually enjoy it. Audi’s notion of bravery is not only insulting to women—depicting them as a stepping stone in a man’s personal quest to feel good about himself—but also to men in that masculinity is defined as contingent on such pathetic behavior. “Bravery, it’s what defines us” is the slogan used (and an apt one at that), but Audi could have done better.

Gildan’s commercial depicts a young man trying to sneak out of a woman’s apartment the morning after a wild one-night stand, fuzzy handcuffs still on his wrist. Just as he prepares to walk out the door, he realizes there’s no way he can leave without his favorite tee. Of course, the woman is asleep in bed wearing his shirt. The man then proceeds to undress the woman as she sleeps to get his shirt back. The ad perpetuates the idea that a man needs to quietly creep out of a woman’s apartment the morning after a one night stand because the woman is obviously crazy.

Are marketers forgetting that almost 50 percent of Super Bowl viewers are women and girls? What do the messages communicated in the ads say about our culture? As the most watched television event in America, the Super Bowl draws millions of eyes. Interestingly enough, while men report enjoying Super Bowl ads the most, it's women who are more likely to tune in to watch the ads and who control the majority of family purchases. So why are these commercials targeted overwhelmingly toward males? Advertisers are ignoring the biggest market while simultaneously offending them.

Miss Representation, a documentary promoting a movement to transform the way women are portrayed in popular media, launched a twitter campaign to push back against sexist Super Bowl commercials. Using the hashtag #NotBuyingIt, women took to social media platform, Twitter, to voice their disappointment and disgust with the sexist ads. Let’s hope advertisers get the message.


See more of the best and worst Super Bowl ads here.

Reach Contributor Sydney Golombek here.



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