Super Bowl Ads – Feminism Made a Difference

Super Bowl Ads – Feminism Made a Difference

The marketing industry understands human nature better than any other and uses that knowledge to make a lot of money. The level of power marketing wields is both perverse and awe inspiring. There is really nothing that marketing cannot convince you of because of their mastery of demographics and the human ego.

The day where marketing’s most elite can show off is Super Bowl Sunday.

During this year’s Super Bowl, retailers were willing to pay as much as 4.5 million dollars for 30 seconds1 of air time and, to be honest, it’s a deal. There is positively no other situation where retailers know they will have the full attention of over 100 million people. In fact, this year set a record for Super Bowl viewers at around 114.8 million.2 That’s a little less than 4 cents per person.3 Four cents!

How marketing chooses to wield their power in our culture is a love-hate relationship for me. They shape our ideals, establish our stereotypes, define what’s cool, and reflect the country’s feelings. Their understanding of human nature includes our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Since their job is to sell a product, they’ll use whichever will get us to buy. Even when they appear to be sincere I’m sure there’s a stack of reports somewhere that told them they should be sincere.

So during the Super Bowl, the biggest marketing day of the year in America, what did retailers try to sell us? Besides great humor, I was pleased that not only were the ads promoting positive attitudes, but they also showed an obvious feminist influence.


Coca-Cola showed their awareness of how contentious online media has been. They encouraged individuals to stop the negative comments and make the world a happy place instead. Of all the ads, this is probably the best representation of a feminist message, which is a human message. The world is what we make it. Make it happy.

The Always ad, “Like a Girl”, was more direct about how ‘girls’ are perceived by adults and how gender stereotypes affect children. “Like a Girl,” along with Dove’s “Care makes a man stronger,” appear influenced by the Italian PSA made recently popular.

The Toyota ad, “One Bold Choice,” spoke gently to the subject of domestic abuse by encouraging dads to make “a choice to get hurt rather than to hurt” where the NFL ad, ”NoMore,” spoke to it directly.

These ads, influenced by feminist ideas and current events, greatly outnumbered the typical sex-sells theme. Even GoDaddy, famous for their innuendos and irreverence, had a very vanilla ad. (Their branding has been effective, though. I was rapt through the entire thing waiting for the punch line.) It was not GoDaddy’s original Super Bowl ad. The original was pulled because of a backlash from animal rights activists—isn’t it weird that GoDaddy responded to an outrage about animal objectification?

T-mobile put out a mess of confusing and counterproductive feminist ads. One promotes the quality of its Wi-Fi calling feature using two great female comedians, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler. Things are great until Silverman tells a mother who has just given birth, “Sorry, it’s a boy.” Progress is not the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction. No wonder feminists are described as man-haters.

A couple of Chevy ads show that marketing still capitalizes on gender stereotypes the old fashioned way.


The first commercial is the Chevy Colorado focus group. A wide demographic of people are shown two identical pictures with the same man standing in front of the same skyline but with different vehicles: one is a nondescript, light silver sedan and the other a bright red Chevy Colorado truck. The group is then asked several questions about the man in the photos. The commercial shows that the groups find the guy with the truck to be cooler, sexier, more handsome, and more resourceful than the same guy with a sedan.

A handful of marketing maneuvers are used to extract this response. Next to the pale sedan the man looks monochromatic in his light blue shirt, dark pants, and black shoes. The truck is bright red and shiny and next to the man’s blue shirt appears to have an energy about it which is what naturally happens when blue and red are juxtaposed.

“Red is the color of fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love. Red is a very emotionally intense color.”4

“Gray is a cool, neutral, and balanced color. The color gray is an emotionless, moody color that is typically associated with meanings of dull, dirty, and dingy, as well as formal, conservative, and sophisticated. The color gray is a timeless and practical color that is often associated with loss or depression.”5

The Chevy Colorado companion commercial is “Theme Song,” which plays out all these same cues except black is substituted for red. Watch it and see how many of them you can find.

“Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery. Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown (black holes). It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, ‘black death’).”6

Now, the man in each picture is exactly the same so how can one be sexier than the other? Well, one’s not. The questions lead the viewer to describe the man in the picture but in reality they are expressing characteristics associated with the color red. So Chevy is teaching that a truck has these characteristics and so does the man who drives it. The red characteristics are honestly more desirable, but the gender stereotype perpetrated by Chevy is that desirable men drive trucks.

I’m sure Chevy will sell you a gray one if you want it.

On the whole, though, feminism has had an impact on what once might have been considered a male event. Feminists, this is positive news on a national scale. It is a delight that sexualized women and overly macho men were not used to shame us into shopping.


1 CNN-Money, February 2, 2015, Super Bowl Ratings
2, Super Bowl US TV Viewership
3 $4,500,000 / 114,800,000 = $0.039198606272
4 Color Wheel Pro, The meaning of Red
5 Bourn Creative, The meaning of the color Grey
6 Color Wheel Pro, The meaning of Black

Rhonda has a BS in Mathematics and Computer Science and is a self-taught graphic designer. She considers herself a geek*wildcard because she has a little bit of experience in everything.

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