Super Better: Super Bowl Ads that Actually Added Women

The Super Bowl is probably the most anticipated television event of the year. With an assumed male dominated viewership, it’s no surprise that every moment is tailored to keeping them focused on the television, even during commercial breaks. Though past Super Bowl ads have been notorious for their promotion of gender stereotypes and roles, this year some companies tried to tone down the manly-man aspect of their ads. Some were successful and some not so much.

Past Super Bowl advertisements have had some embarrassing hits. For example, Dr. Pepper Ten’s 2011 commercial was so focused on over-exaggerating male gender norms to masculinize diet soda, a beverage apparently considered feminine, that it seemed borderline comical. Realizing that the ad was completely serious, even Forbes dubbed it “bizarre.” But, Dr. Pepper wasn’t alone.

Joining them in the notorious commercial category would be Doritos’ 2013 Super Bowl commercial in which a girl tries to convince her father to play dress up with her. The dad only plays with his daughter after being bribed with Doritos, because why would a father ever want to spend time with his daughter. Daddy’s friends decide to join in as well. Not only does the joke paint a caricature of outdated gender roles, it’s also offensive to those who don’t abide by those roles. Bonus points to Doritos for throwing in the ever-coveted nagging wife, stereotypically carrying groceries and ruining the fun.

It seemed as though no company even took the time to consider the possibility that women watch the Super Bowl too. Last year, women made up 46 percent of the Super Bowl audience, according to Nielsen demographic data. 

In response to the overly-masculine commercials, the Representation Project spoke up both last year and this year by using #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike in tweets during the game. Women also made up 59 percent of Twitter users, according to a report published by This year it appears that advertisers have finally taken notice and addressed the female viewership.

This year, Always took the phrase “like a girl” and tore it to shreds. Not only did they destroy the notion that women and girls are physically inferior, they also proved that gender stereotypes are things we learn from society growing up; they’re not inherent. In addition, they pointed out how this phrase can be harmful to boys and men as well by regulating their gender roles and stereotypes.

Through Nationwide’s commercial this year, Mindy Kaling made a very intentional statement on the invisibility of women, specifically women of color, in a humorous way. Even without the whole script and scenes, just her appearance during one of the most watched television events of the year, one catered to the male population, helped dismantle that same invisibility.

This move was not at all something new for the comedian. Kaling discussed this same concept of invisibility alongside Lena Dunham, Jenji Koha, Kristen Wiig, and Emily Nussbaum at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Going beyond the obvious commercials, some other companies even toned down their dude-centric ads this year. Fiat’s 2013 commercial attempted to subtly convey the message that buying their car would make women more attracted to you. The message came out crystal clear. The subtlety, on the other hand, needed a lot of work, so much in fact that they may as well have earned themselves a spot in Sociological Images’ list of pornographic imagery in media from 2008.

However, this year’s viewers followed a tiny blue pill (clearly Viagra) on its adventure from a man’s palm to the gas tank of a Fiat 500, which consequently “grew” into a 500X crossover SUV. Though the central message remained, this ad relied on some well-known tropes and more creativity to get that message across. The lack of breathless women struggling to be noticed was noted. Bonus points to Fiat for throwing in a realistic-looking bed-mate of the man who sadly lost the blue pill instead of the typical younger, model type.

There was even a moving ad about domestic violence, in which the phone call heard was actually a real 911 call which occurred about eight months ago. It seems like an effective commercial, drawing the viewers into the frightened mentality of a victim of domestic violence. Going even further, the NFL gave the air time for the commercial from the No More organization for free. Given the recent domestic violence cases involving multiple members of the NFL, this commercial is either ironic or a promise for a better future.

The NFL has publicly partnered with the No More organization, working with it to end domestic violence. However, the donation of air time comes from the NFL’s own advertising time. They get that time to air commercials no matter what. In essence, the NFL just took a quick break from directly promoting itself to indirectly promote its new campaign against domestic violence, if you can even call it a campaign. The ad offers no solution to help end domestic violence. The only purpose it served was to show that domestic violence exists and the NFL cares. No one really knows what the NFL is doing about it.

As it turns out, No More is not exactly a nonprofit organization. It also doesn’t consist of a committee of people. No people seem to actually work there. Instead, the organization is made up of various brands, such as Allstate and Verizon. Even the website is owned by Kate Spade. So, with all this in mind, the commercial is ironic, if not some cheap publicity stunt.

Regardless, they’re all a step in the right direction and an absolute improvement from years before. Sure, the ads could still use some (or a lot of) tweaking, but at least companies are taking notice of female viewers and trying to reach out to them. Now it’s up to the companies not to drop the ball on this in the future.