Women don't buy cars or corn chips, drink beer or diet soda, or set up Web sites with URLs. Not according to Super Bowl advertisers who ran ads in last Sunday's big event.
To be sure, at the party where I was watching the game with 13 men and exactly as many women, I asked: "Who bought the beer and chips for this shindig? Who picked out the car you drove here? Any women here ever set up a Web page?"
Women: 13. Advertisers: 0.
According to Nielsen, the female audience of the Super Bowl has increased steadily over the last 10 years. Last year in fact, almost 38 percent of viewers were women over the age of 18, compared to about 43 percent men. But that five-point spread looked entirely different when measured by the ads we saw on Sunday. Of the 95 national ads featured, women, girls, female animals or lipstick-wearing potato heads appeared in just 43. And that's not to say those 43 ads were created for women or designed to persuade them to spend any of the $7 trillion they do each year.
In fact, women, for all intents and purposes, were ignored.
There were exceptions. One ad treated the viewing audience of more than 90 million people to the story of an ordinary woman being humiliated in front of her colleagues by the flowers her lover had sent. "No one wants to see you naked," scoffed the tulips. It was The Office meets Little Shop of Horrors without the wit of either. I guess that is the Teleflora difference.
Twenty-two ads featured women and/or their breasts in starring roles. Twelve were truly insulting or demeaning. At the very least, they made the women I was with sneer in that stereotypical way women do when confronted by disparaging stereotypes.
In most of the ads, though, women were simply eye candy that passed through the backgrounds. If I had to guess, I'd say those women walking determinedly behind Alec Baldwin in the Hulu spot were most likely on their way to a car dealership to make one of the 85 percent of all purchases they influence in a year. Probably not on the way to Audi, Toyota or Acura, judging by the advertising messages, but I'm just going on the information presented.
Let's not forget these are serious times. Advertisers, like the rest of us, are facing the worst economic environment of our lifetimes, and we have a new president attempting to shake up business as usual in Washington. One way to do that may be to send a bevy of unnaturally large-breasted women to expose themselves to Congress after taking showers in pairs. GoDaddy, indeed.
"Maybe we can enjoy these ads anyway," I said to the women around me during one commercial break. Most of the guys were off to the kitchen for more chili -- that is, not watching the commercials, anyway. "Maybe we can just enjoy the general messages created for the mass -- meaning male -- audience."
We decided to give it a try.
But even ignoring the naked slut in the Doritos ad, we got the message: Finish a whole bag, get hit by a bus. "A metaphor for binge eating?" someone asked. And what girl doesn't want to hurl a snow globe at some guy's nuts from time to time?
Pepsi Max offered up that while guys do helpful things like killing bugs and moving stuff, the rest of the time they can be charmingly stupid in a slapstick kind of way that we found so loveable before we married them.
While we completely connected with the realistic depiction of women in the one CareerBuilder ad (screaming in vain at her futile career options), we were not captivated by seeing the few other fully dressed women acting catty, waiting tables, grocery shopping and busting the buttons off of their polyester slacks.
We gave up. We couldn't enjoy them.
Mostly, Super Bowl XLIII was one of missed opportunities -- and not just on the field. The Sprint campaign imagining the world as a place where roadies and deliverymen run things efficiently could have benefitted from a version with fashion publicists or, say, multi-tasking carpooling moms who actually do run things efficiently. Women influence 90 percent of all technology purchases, or hasn't Sprint noticed?
And wouldn't that Cars.com spot been more effective if David Abernathy had been cast as a woman? Need we remind Mr. Cars.com that it's Ms. Abernathy who chooses 65 percent of cars purchased in this country?
Ultimately for women, the year's most-watched entertainment event wasn't so entertaining. Most of the ads were sophomoric and mean-spirited. Is that a reflection of the brands, or a reflection of those who created them?
It may not have been Shakespeare who said, "Hell hath no fury like 40 million women scorned," but it's still good advice that someone should share with those who pay the big bucks to run Super Bowl ads.
By my calculations, at $3 million a pop, they wasted plenty.
Kristi Faulkner, AdAge.com. February 4, 2009
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