Americans across the nation will tune in on Sunday, Feb. 5 to watch the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots battle it out in Houston during Super Bowl LI. While millions will watch for the game, others will tune in just to see the highly anticipated advertisements.
Traditionally, brands have featured spots — for which they pay millions — using humor, playing off current events and trends, sexualized content, and even powerful anecdotes with undertones reflecting deeper messages. Who could forget the 2016 star-studded Mini car commercial, featuring Serena Williams and Abby Wambach among others, that shot down stereotypes, or the provocative and controversial Carl’s Jr.’s and GoDaddy commercial in past years, featuring scantily clad women?
Yet with the changing political climate and societal implications currently present in the United States, it seems that some big companies are shifting their focus, a trend that has popped up in recent years. With this, there’s a new target demographic: women.
While saccharine plays at emotions have become de rigueur for the Super Bowl, it’s clear that this will be taken a step further with advocacy to raise awareness by highlighting gender equality and feminism.
“It’s been a steady move in this direction,” Lisa Granatstein, editor at Adweek, tells Yahoo Style. “As more women watch the game — and almost half the audience is women — it’s become important to market to them in a respectful way. Not just that, but women’s products are now being advertised during the Super Bowl, like Tiffany for example.”
Tiffany & Co. is a clear example of this. The New York-based jeweler will showcase its first-ever Super Bowl commercial this year, having teamed up with Lady Gaga for the 60-second spot. Although the ad has not been released yet, the company debuted a short teaser ahead of the game in which the singer, who’s performing during halftime, discusses the importance of creativity.
As an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, Gaga is a unique choice to promote the American luxury brand’s latest collection. Although the choice does mirror the overarching shift in recent years to cater to women — and, even more, encourage equality.
“Two year ago, Always turned a viral video into a successful Super Bowl spot geared toward women and highlighting sexism. #LikeAGirl was a great success, earning it the No. 2 spot in USA Today‘s Ad Meter Super Bowl Ad poll, millions of views, and a lot of earned media coverage,” Keith A. Quesenberry, assistant professor of marketing at Messiah College and author of Social Media Strategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution, tells Yahoo Style.
Always was just one of the many brands that have made thoughtful statements through their Super Bowl spots. Sexualized content is being replaced with thematic elements that reflect growing notions across the nation, like the importance of women’s rights.
German automobile manufacturer Audi’s 2017 Super Bowl commercial is one of the most impactful within this year’s lineup so far that touches on the subject.
In a tear-jerking one-minute commercial, a father’s voice-over discusses raising his daughter in a world of inequality, while his daughter races boys in a cart race.
“What do I tell my daughter?” the man asks as he watches his daughter compete. “Do I tell her that her grandpa is worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?”
The little girl surges to the finish line, beating the competition, as her father narrates: “Or maybe, I’ll be able to tell her something different.” The screen is then filled with a message from the company expressing its commitment to equal pay for equal work. Companies spending great amounts of money to attach their brand to concepts like eliminating the wage gap in society or showing little girls that they should be treated as equals shows just how far popular commercials during the Super Bowl have come.
“I think there is definitely a tonal shift in all advertisement during the Super Bowl,” Granatstein shares. “It’s rare now that you’ll have sexualized content. There are instances where it does exist, but it’s not the norm by any means anymore. It’s definitely a platform now to take on topical issues, and women’s equality is certainly one of them that’s risen to the top of our consciousness.”
Another Super Bowl commercial that takes on a more humorous approach to combating sexism in society is by popular deodorant brand Secret.
The brand’s 30-second commercial features a woman who holds her love for the game to the highest degree, turning down a man for his allegiance to her opposing team. The commercial hits back at stereotypes that football is more of a man’s sport and cleverly uses the tagline, ‘Throws before bros.’
On the advertising opportunity during the Super Bowl, Granatstein shares, “It’s an amazing platform for a brand to message that they support women, that they take it seriously. It’s also been the zeitgeist. This is something that’s been brewing for some time, so a lot of brands are taking on that message, which gets translated into social media and has an even wider audience.”
Social media is largely impacted by Super Bowl commercials, as viewers usually sound off on their reactions to the content as they are watching. With the messages included in commercials shifting toward equality and combating sexism, the messages across social media are evolving as well.
“Coming out of the last election — and [with] movements like the Women’s March — a lot of consumers and the press are talking about and searching for women’s topics right now. If a brand can make a statement around that trending topic, that increases their chances of being talked about and covered,” Quesenberry shared. “Simply being one of the 60 to 70 commercials run during the Super Bowl is not enough. Every brand is aiming for the top 10 to get the extra awareness and continued engagement from earned media and buzz that makes it a better investment from a marketing perspective.”
However, despite some advertisers’ interest in supporting different causes in order to make buzzworthy statements, others take a different approach in order not to isolate or repel some consumers.
“I do think that advertisers are much more cautious this year given how divided the country is and how contentious the election was, that everything has become politicized,” Granatstein explains. “So the last thing they want to do is create more controversy. We’ve already seen a lot of brands on social media get burned and boycotted, so if anything, they’re trying to avoid that.”
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