Thursday, February 11, 2010

Were 2010 Super Bowl Ads Misogynistic?

What up? So, a friend of mine sent me a link to the following critique of super bowl commercials.

The Author’s bottom line was that super bowl ads were misogynistic. However, when reading the blog post, I feel as though all super bowl ads weren’t given a thorough look. The author makes a generalization of misogyny in super bowl ads without really providing much back-up for the theory. So, with the power of the internet and all the extra time I have because there is blizzard happening, I watched every single commercial that aired during the super bowl. Based on the data accrued I am going to hook you all up with themes that I, with my very distinct viewpoint, found striking about the ads.

Before I begin, I talk about many commercials throughout this post. I was going to link to each one I mentioned, but I’ve decided based upon my analysis I have little to no desire to actually do that kind of promotion for these companies. If you go here, all of the commercials are listed. You can try to figure which ads I’m talking about based on my descriptions.

Here are the things I found striking:

#1 Dudes are car driving, beer drinking, food eaters.
This one is actually just based on a statistical analysis. Of the 68 ads played, 14 were about food, 11 were about cars and 9 were about beer. (With websites [7], technology [5] and NFL [5] coming in at 4th, 5th, and 6th for number of ads, respectively). Basically, if you were to size up men based on the ads, all dudes should care about is eating (mostly) junk food, getting wasted, and then hopping in a sweet ride. Sounds dumb considering the whole people shouldn’t really drunk drive thing (but I guess that’s also a theme, check out #5).

#2 There was only one advertisement that specifically targeted women.
There were 68 ads played throughout the course of the super bowl, and not surprisingly, most were advertising to men. However, because I do know a female football fan or two, I thought there would be a few more. Sketchers Shape-Ups, the one ad that did specifically target women, also targeted men. In doing so, there was a stark dichotomy in how the shoes were being sold. For the fellas the shoes were all about improving strength and posture. For the ladies? You guessed it! The selling points for these shoes were helping women to lose weight without hitting the gym AND fitting better in their jeans. Because, you know, women are only supposed to care about their weight, and couldn’t possibly want to be strong and have good posture.

#3 Gay people don’t exist.
I had hopes when the Anheuser Busch commercial came on showing the horse and the calf frolicking together. It could be interpreted as a gay theme, if one wanted. However, at the end of the commercial, they made sure it wouldn’t be seen that way by saying that horse and bull were just friends.

#4 Women have no power.

Women in some of the Super Bowl Commercials are either never given power or have power taken away.  here is a partial list of some examples of this:
  • Example 1: Even though Danica Patrick is a badass race car driver … in the godaddy commercials, she’s nothing but a pretty spokes model (As are the other women in the commercials).
  • Example 2: In order to hold on to his Bridgestone tires, some dude would hand his wife over to bandits.
  • Example 3: When women are trying to have a discussion about a book, bud light makes it so that men can invade their party and hit on them (poorly).
  • Example 4: Tim Tebow tackles the fuck out his mom.
  • Example 5: In every commercial about a movie or a video game, women are just there to be fucked and or rescued.
  • Example 6: In a Bud Light commercial, a woman is taking a shower, and gets peeped in on when people start to take cans out of a house made out of bud light cans…
  • Example 7: A woman is about to go on a date with a dude and he checks out her booty. Her 5 year old son then throws down and goes to her rescue by slapping and then threatening the suitor. Because, you know, women are so helpless that even a 5 year old can protect a woman better than she could herself.
  • Example 8: One huge shoutout to women having no power was the bud light commercial that parodied lost. There is one woman that tries to get radio contact with the outside world, but everyone flocks to the dude who finds a fridge full of bud light. When she does make radio contact, some dude changes it to music instead. No power, even when people should’ve probably listened to her.

#5 Men are either huge douchetools … or mega super men.
If women came off as having no power … men came off as huge idiots much of the time.

Like in the Doritos commercial where the man is outsmarted by a dog. Or in the bud light commercial where the scientist mistakes a tiny chunk of space matter for an earth ending asteroid. Or when the dude from intel talks about how the processors are the best product intel has ever come up with right in front of an AI robot (that I’m assuming Intel developed).

When men aren’t portrayed as total idiots, then they are supermen. Like in the NFL commercial that compares a touchdown to launching a space shuttle. Or the coke commercial where a man sleepwalks through African wildlife and doesn’t get killed. Or the commercial where dudebro is a super genius and saves peeps from a tornado and helps a tiger give breach birth. Or in the Dr. Pepper commercial where the Kiss band member rips the top off a Dr. Pepper can like it was an everyday occurrence.

#6 Being in a relationship sucks … and that is obviously the woman’s fault.
While no power was really given to women in the super bowl commercials … two commercials straight up hated on being in relationships with women.

The first was the dodge charger commercial where the dudes talk about how they do everything for their ladies, but they still get to be dudes by driving a charger. Those guys seemed pretty pissed about having to deal with life. My favorite is “I will take my socks off before getting into bed.” And dudebro just looked super angry about it. But at least he gets to drive his charger.

The other commercial was the FloTv commercial where boyfriend couldn’t watch the game because his lady (also apparently the root of evil) made him go shopping with her. He is called spineless, and is chastised for not doing whatever he can to fulfill his sports obsession. Not only does he have to help his girlfriend buy hot undies, but he is no longer a man because he’s taken some time away from his sports obsession. Women suck.

#7 Men of Color
So … most of the people who were featured in the ads were white folks.

However, men of color, when given spotlight, were animalized (like when TruTv turns Palumalu into a groundhog), treated as crazy aggressive (the sumo wrestler in the KGB commercial, or the 5 year old in the Doritos commercial) or they were stereotyped (Charles Barkley rapping in the Taco Bell commercial).

I don’t think I saw any Latino men at all, and the only 2 Asian men represented were the sumo wrestler and the dude who misinterpreted the asteroid.

#8 Junk Food Will Make You AMAZING
Like when Betty White eats a Snickers bar and turns back into a dude and can play football again. Or the coke commercial where Monty Burns loses his fortune, but feels better when he’s given a coke. Or the Doritos commercial where dude has a samurai suit made out of Doritos and he ninja-stars a dude in the neck … with a Dorito.

So, when I watched all the Super Bowl commercials, those were the themes that really stuck out to me. You’re more than welcome to interpret my findings as you will.

But let’s return to the question that brought me to do this analysis: “Were the super bowl ads misogynistic?”
  • 38 out of 64 were not. More than half refrained from any sort of overt or covert woman hating.
  • 23 were what I’m going to call covertly misogynistic. Although they did not outright hate on the ladies, these commercials resorted to objectifying, victimizing, or taking power away from women in one form or another in order to sell their product. The companies included in this list were: Bud Light (a few times), Snickers, Focus on Family, Robin Hood, GoDaddy, Monster, Doritos, Sketchers, Prince of Persia, Motorola, ETrade, Kia, Vizeo, EA. Now … if you do end up looking up these commercials, I admit that you may disagree that some of them are misogynistic, even covertly. Basically anytime there was an objectified or disempowered woman, I added that company to this list. Your definition of disempowered woman may be different than my own.
  • 3 were outright misogynistic. There are the two that I mentioned in theme #6 above. The other one, in my opinion, is the Bridgestone commercial where tires are more important than his wife. If you don’t want to support women-hating advertising add Dodge, Bridgestone, and FloTv to your “Do Not Buy” list.

My final thought about all of this is, obviously advertising should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re trying to elicit an emotional reaction so that you’ll remember their name and their product. My purpose in this analysis is simply to show how things can be seen when looked at more critically than we usually look at advertising. Take this whole analysis as you will.

Also, although I think that the commentary that men have to be tough and protect the women in their life with whatever force necessary is kind of ridiculously done, my favorite ad, by far, is this one

It shouldn’t be as it’s definitely on the covert misogyny list … but it still is. That kid is adorable.



  1. 1) Agreed about the "Play Nice" commercial.
    2) Speaking from first-hand experience this year, these ads are definitely hitting their market, for better or for worse. I spent this year's Superbowl hanging with small town white dudes who would have these ads no other way. "gay" does not refer to people - it refers to things that are dumb and that they hate. "ethnic" or "multiracial" is a big city, liberal concept. And "junk food" isn't a separate food group, it's a way of life. So, though I agree with your assessment of most of these commercials... I feel like the ad agencies are doing their job. It's the audience that needs changing or enightenment. Which you probably already knew, but I thought it needing re-iteration.

  2. #9 Megan Fox can turn gay guys straight:

    There was *one* gay couple in the ads, Becca. Only on screen momentarily in a Motorola commercial, the couple was part of a video montage of what the hypothetical repercussions would be if Megan Fox published, from her phone, a photo of herself bathing. The couple is shown getting into a fight over said hot, hypothetical photo -- because...Megan Fox can turn gay guys straight, right? Also, how did we know they were gay if they were only on screen for 2-3 seconds? They were sharply dressed in pink and purple patterned designer shirts, standing in a very well decorated kitchen, and slapping each other flamboyantly. Sure sounds like heteronormative bullshit to me.

    Love this super legit post, Becca!

  3. The ad in question:

  4. Jenn - I totally agree that the ads are effective. Advertisers, unfortunately, aren't stupid and they know their target audience. I mean, I even almost wanted to buy a bag of Doritos while drinking a Bud Light in an Audi. Almost.

    Kaeli - Word.

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