February 2, 2015

Super Bowl ads take a break from macho

or It's that art-reflecting-life-reflecting-art thing

With the Super Bowl, my expectation is usually that we’re going to see a lot of ads that play into the male stereotypes. There is a pretty rich history of guys’ lives improving by the likes of the Swedish bikini team, men posturing over why they can rationalize drinking a “diet” beer, and any number of other “guys will be guys” kind of messaging. We don’t even have to talk about the recent Carl’s Jr. or GoDaddy ads.

But this year really struck me as being different. I saw men with tears in their eyes—and not because of a beautiful car with excessive horsepower. Men were showing emotions over a puppy for Budweiser, over their daughter for Dove, and over being a dad for both Nissan and Toyota.

And what? GoDaddy went empathetic for the hard-working entrepreneur? Are you feeling okay GoDaddy? There wasn’t a bikini in sight.

I found the only really typical “guy” spot was for Doritos. And in my opinion, it made Doritos seem like a dinosaur. The “yeah, hot girl sit next to me” turned into “jokes on you, she’s a mom” message seemed really dated.

It makes me think of the age-old chicken and egg question of art imitating life or life imitating art. Is this due to marketers thinking consciously about the fact that the cases of domestic violence in the NFL have skyrocketed so they want to back down on the macho? Is this in recognition of the fact that the Super Bowl is one of the modern ages’ few collective experiences—so there will be women watching? Is it time for football to show its softer side?

I don’t really care which it is, as I’m just happy to see more emotionally-balanced and female-positive messages out there. There were the obviously female-positive messages of the Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign, but more subtly than many of the ads was the halftime show with Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Missy Elliot.

It was just a few years ago that we had the uproar over the “wardrobe malfunction” of Janet Jackson. Now, not to go on a tangent about how a boob is more overtly sexual and threatening than a hoard of slutty catholic schoolgirls shaking their asses, let’s just compare it to the restraint of this year’s halftime show. Perry showed more cleavage in the promos than she did during the show. Metrosexual Kravitz only sang to one song—the sexual identity bending male/female duo of “I Kissed a Girl.” Then Missy Elliot came on and totally entertained us with a troupe of dancers with absolutely no skin showing whatsoever. Was it any less entertaining? No. Even the selection of Perry was interesting, as her main following is younger women attracted to her female-empowering messages. It’s not exactly the Rolling Stones.

So, back to my original question: Is this a shift in society, marketers intentionally playing it safe, or the collective unconscious of the advertising community leading that shift?

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Thought Leadership