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Why This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Fell Flat

This year’s Super Bowl is being dubbed the “Inspiration Bowl” after a majority of advertisers traded in frat-boy humor for more “emotional” ads. Some brands, like Always and Dove, nailed their effort to connect on a deeper level, while others, like Carnival and Nissan, really missed the mark. Nationwide and T-mobile somehow managed to do both.

So what’s behind the sudden shift? It seems like advertisers are finally realizing they need to start paying more attention to women. Last year, 47% of Super Bowl viewers were women, and as we know, women control 85% of consumer spending. Clearly, advertising to women during the Super Bowl is just good business sense. If those numbers aren’t convincing enough, there’s also the fact that women are much more active on social media; as Kat Gordon put it “Ads with female appeal = best return on $4 million price-tag.”

While the effort to turn down the sexist messages in the ads is truly appreciated, we still had to wonder what caused so many of this year’s ads to fall flat? Our best guess is that when you take male-focused, and often sexist, humor off the table, you’re left with a lot of male creative directors who don’t know what to do other than turn to what they think is the only thing women will respond to: emotion. This year’s Super Bowl is another blatant example of why agencies need to increase the number of women creative directors (which is currently at a measly 11%). Women respond to more than just sappy messages, we promise! You just need the right women to show you how to do it.

Finally, while these ads are a great first step, let’s remember that they are just that, a first step. Ann Friedman put it well in her New York Magazine article: “[The Ads] open up a great opportunity to press the advertisers for details on how they’re putting their purported ideals into practice. How much of its annual profit is Always diverting to girls’ empowerment programs? What sort of paternity-leave policies are in place at Dove and Nissan — and do those companies support better federal family-leave laws for all parents? How is the NFL changing its policies, not just its messaging, toward players who abuse their partners?”

One thing is for sure, we’re making progress. We think that 2015 will see even more women use their voice (and dollar) to demand change, and hopefully next year’s Super Bowl will be filled with advertisers that are doing more to really understand women.


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