The 2017 Super Bowl Ads Did Women A Disservice

by Kadeen Griffiths
Kia on YouTube

The Super Bowl is a time-honored tradition, as is the Super Bowl commercial. And another tradition, less time-honored and more quietly understood, is the Super Bowl commercial sexism that the women who tune into the Big Game have to suffer through each year. Super Bowl ads, which cost up to $5 million to serve during the event, have a long, long tradition of pandering to heterosexual male viewer's basest desires by objectifying women — be it in the form of a 2010 Doritos commercial that featured a woman nude on a bed covered in chips to get her man's attention, or a 2012 Teleflora commercial where Adriana Lima is charmed into intercourse through flower bouquets. But the 2017 Super Bowl marked a refreshing change from the norm. There was only one notable ad that objectified women airing during Super Bowl LI, as opposed to the usual five or so. But it wasn't a total victory for female representation — many of the night's ads lacked objectification because they excluded women entirely.

The one offending ad, for Yellow Tail Wine, showed a series of parties where the beautiful, bikini-clad Ellie Gonsalves stopped by to willingly "pet your roo." Kangaroo, that is. Wink wink, nudge nudge. But the rest of the night's ads thankfully didn't fall back on this sexualized method of promoting their products. Some of them had political messages, like Kia's environmentally-friendly ad or Airbnb's ad celebrating diversity. Some of them were pure fun, like GoDaddy — a repeat offender when it comes to objectification — celebrating internet memes or T-Mobile letting Justin Bieber show off his dance moves. Some of them were downright bizarre, such as the sexy Mr. Clean ad reminding us how hot it is when a man cleans the house, or the talking yearbook photos ad that might just give me strange nightmares for a week. It's a huge step up from a woman wearing nothing but Doritos.

And though they were few, there were a couple ads worth celebrating on Sunday night. Audi's "Daughter" ad starred a tough young girl, a father who was cheering her on, and an assertion from the car company that it would support equal pay.

Kia's green-friendly commercial featured Melissa McCarthy as an eco-warrior who never stopped trying to save the environment, and I loved that it was an ad starring a fully-clothed woman using her comedy chops rather than her sex appeal to sell a product.

If we could get more of that when we tune into our Super Bowl ads — women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities, leading or co-leading commercials rather than being objectified in the fore- or background — then I might actually be excited to tune in to the Big Game every year. Until then, the victory of a severe decrease in the objectification of women is one to celebrate.

As pointed out by The Drum, only about eight commercials actually featured women in lead roles this year. The rest of them reportedly either featured women in supporting or background roles — such as party guest and the like — or didn't feature women at all. That's certainly one way to get around the issue of sexism in Super Bowl commercials, but it's not the most ideal way to do it.

After all, according to CNN, about 46 percent of the Super Bowl audience is female, and, according to an Entrepreneur infographic, 78 percent of women watch for the commercials. On top of that, a 2014 AdWeek study found that women are the ones who most often post and share information about advertisements on social media, which is kind of a big deal considering, per Newsweek, 80 percent of advertisements don't increase sales. Instead, the commercials promote brand recognition by entertaining or surprising the audience to keep them talking.

So while it was a relief to see Super Bowl commercials featuring more important social messages and fewer naked women, it was a disappointment that many of the commercials failed in representing women equally, rather than just using them as background characters or supporting characters. I dream of a world in which the Super Bowl ads feature as many women leading commercials on their own as men, with an equal amount of commercials starring both sprinkled in between. Eight commercials starring women isn't enough. Now that we've taken a step to almost completely remove objectification from our ads for the Big Game, we should take the extra step to ensure adequate representation for women in varying roles.