Women make up half of the big game’s audience, yet most advertisers still aren’t visibly playing to them.
Super Bowl commercials are benching women.
More than twice as many male celebrities than female appear in the ads scheduled to air during this year’s big game, according to an AdAge analysis that counted the spots released as of Thursday morning.
So far, the super male TV advertisements showcase 20 men, including Danny DeVito for M&Ms, Matt Damon for Stella Artois, Keanu Reeves for SquareSpace, Morgan Freeman for Mtn. Dew and Peter Dinklage for Doritos. That’s compared to just eight women, including Cardi B and Rebel Wilson for Amazon Alexa, and Cindy Crawford for Pepsi.
Only about half of this year’s scheduled TV commercials (not counting movie trailers and television show teasers) have been previewed, but what we’ve seen is already mirroring last year’s marketing playbook, where 61 men scored featured roles in Super Bowl ads compared to 23 women, according to AdAge’s Super Bowl archive. The Advertising Benchmark Index (ABX) reported 86% of the advertisements had a man in them, and only 62% had a woman.
“We’ve moved away from a lot of the objectification and sexualization of women in Super Bowl commercials – if you think back to Carl’s Jr. ads with Charlotte McKinney eating a cheeseburger half naked. And there’s certainly less stereotypes of the ‘nagging woman,’” observed Jeanine Poggi, a media and advertising reporter at AdAge. “What’s left now is a major underrepresentation of women, of not even trying to be inclusive.”
And this reflects a larger trend in television advertising, according to the Advertising Benchmark Index (ABX), which has created the Gender Equality Index (GEM) with the Association for National Advertisers (ANA) that measures gender bias in commercials. “When we look at the data, the number of women in those Super Bowl ads is really not dramatically different than what we see in our norms,” ABX president Gary Getto told Moneyish.
So why are women being sidelined in commercials? The experts say there is no real satisfying reason.
Women are watching the game. Last year 54 million women caught the Super Bowl, which was 49% of the total audience. So this isn’t just a guys’ night; half of the fanbase is, in fact, female.
Plus, women are the ones who make the spending decisions. As much as 85% of consumer spending is controlled by women, and they purchase more than 50% of traditionally male products. So they’re the ones advertisers should be trying to win over. “The overwhelming majority of purchases of Super Bowl items or items that are advertised during the Super Bowl are in fact bought by women,” said Getto, “So not appealing to the women in the audience really doesn’t make a lot of sense from a strategic standpoint.”
And the belief that consumers find men more authoritative and trusting, so commercials fronted by males sell more products, is completely bogus. “Advertisements that have only a woman in them versus advertisements that only have a man in them do about 4% better,” said Getto.
He added that they found 70% of commercials had male voice-overs versus female voice-overs, and yet when they looked at creative effectiveness, they found that ads with women narrators performed 4% better. “That could be because women’s voices are not heard as often, and therefore there is some distinctiveness to it. Or it could be that they come across as more friendly, or they are speaking to the women in the audience who are the ones actually making the purchases,” he said.
“So there is no logic for the gender disparity,” added Getto. “It’s habit and bias.”
The problem may be that the people actually creating and approving the advertisements are men. Women make up 46.4% of the advertising industry, but just 11% advance to be creative directors, according to the 3% Movement, which advocates for more female creative directors. When the organization was founded in 2012, just 3% of creative directors were women.
So men making and green-lighting the ads leads to gender bias. And thus 91% of women feel that advertisers don’t understand them.
“Advertisers need to be made aware that these biases exist,” said Getto. “There are ANA members who are beginning to say that there must be women on their creative teams, and there must be some kind of representation of women in casting and directing, and as those begin to percolate through the system, some of these biases will begin to disappear. But habits die slowly.”
Poggi also proposed that omitting women from commercials could be a knee-jerk reaction to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, as advertisers are so worried about offending women by sexualizing them or stereotyping them that they are playing it too safe by completely omitting them.
“I do think there is a level of fear of getting it ‘wrong,’ and advertisers are concerned about alienating any of their consumer base,” she said. “It’s easier to stick to the tried-and-true, which is why they’re keeping it light-hearted this year with humorous ads and slapstick humor.”
There’s also huge fear of being called a hypocrite. Audi released its “Daughter” Super Bowl commercial last year that showed a dad rooting for his little girl at a soap box derby and worrying about her being valued less than the boys in the future. The company was accused of being disingenuous because only two of its 14 executives were female.
And what if the brand gets targeted by #MeToo? “Imagine your company does an commercial promoting women’s empowerment, and then the next week your CEO gets accused of sexual misconduct, which we’ve seen could happen to essentially any company” said Poggi. “I think there is a lot of underlying fear.”
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