We’re More Than Mermaids and Murderers

The New England Patriots won the Superbowl (again!) in the lowest scoring game in Superbowl history.  I don’t know if it was a good game because the NFL is racist and I can’t fuck with that, but I still enjoyed the other big game–Superbowl ads! For decades now the Superbowl has hosted some of the most expensive TV ad time; this year costS ran at 5 million for a 30-second spot.  That means Cardi B has to make 4,201,681 Pepsis skruuuttt off the shelves to pay for ad time–and that doesn’t even include paying the celebrity endorsers or the manicurist who did that to Cardi’s nails.

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There’s no room here for boring old My Pillow ads or long pharma lists of side effects.  Instead, advertisers bring their A game to the big game.   Critics Monday morning quarterbacking the ads this year said the ads, on the whole, failed to inspire much beyond the same yawn the game did but buried in the boring ads is a glimmer of America’s shifting gender landscape.

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Taken together, the ads of the Superbowl serve as a snapshot of mainstream American culture, a night when Madison Ave translates the life of the Friday Night lights crowd and sells it back to them with the celebrities du jour.  The tone of the ads is an echo of the mood of the nation, and the best ads push our imagination towards our brighter future. For much of the Superbowl’s 52-year history, the ads revolved around the man’s world–razor ads and beer ads full of “manly men’, women draped across their shoulders like scarves, mere accessories, or crave-worthy objects.  As times changed, ads gave a wink and nod to the ladies who were expected to be at SuperBowl parties, but more interested in the snacks than the sacks.

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Women make up an increasing share of the fan base of the NFL.  Just like women are getting shit done in Congress, handling business in business, and pushing social change forward, they are also watching football.  The big game means big chances for advertisers to not only speak to women viewers, but to position themselves as a brand able to address women as full humans.  So how did advertisers do ditching the stereotypes and including women in the big game? Here are the big plays:

Same Ladies, New Era

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Several of the ads that featured women could claim that they are catering to women viewers, but the ad is really just the same old same old.  Anheuser Bush pitched a new sparkling beverage targeted at women (because real liquor would mess up our little lady minds!) with mermaids twirling beneath the sea.  Mermaids are a hot trend and a cold stereotype.  Sure undulating under the wave is sexy but you can’t run shit if you have no legs.

Image result for superbowl ads 2019Stella Artois went for a land version of a mermaid featuring the demure damsel in a dress Carrie Bradshaw.  Sex in the City aired from 1998 to 2004, just a year after the invasion of Iraq and three years before social media, and Carrie Bradshaw was a woman of her time kissing frogs and holding out for Mr. Big, a guy we would call problematic by today’s standards.  Is this the best they could do for a poster woman to bring beer ads into the 21st century? And then there was Zoe Kravitz with the organic, gluten-free bedroom eyes.  Sure ASRM is science, but its arousal factor is that same old sex-sells storyline.  A beer ad with ear porn isn’t speaking to women, just whispering to the boys.

The call: fumble. Sticking a woman in an ad during a football game doesn’t automatically mean you’re shattering any stereotypes. Recycling the same old themes or celebs, breathless and prettily sipping their drinks misses the moment and the movement that women are in.

Fearless Women With Fight

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Unlike undulating fish girls, several of the ads spoke to the power that women are taking on as we push towards gender equity.  Two ads promoted upcoming streaming shows: a promo for The Handmaid’s Tale third season on Hulu and one for a new show on Amazon prime called Hanna.  Both show women who are uninterested in being anybody’s sexy mermaid.  Handmaid’s tale is a pointed critique of contemporary gender politics, pulling no punches for the Superbowl crowd, calling on America to wake up.

Image result for hanna amazon prime Hanna also paints a dark world for women, where a young girl is turned into a weapon and must fight to be free.  While this certainly seems different from centuries of submissive and subjugated women, she is still a tool, shaped by a man to have only one strategy–violence. I don’t think this is what Helen Ready meant when she sang ‘hear me roar.’

Image result for superbowl ads 2019Sarah Michelle Geller revises her role as potential home invasion victim as a masked intruder stalks her and her man.  Hiding in the bedroom, her Olay smooth face is too lovely to open her facial recognition phone, but also disarming enough to charm a psychopath.  No kung fu or social resistance here, just a beauty made more beautiful by Olay slaying and staying alive.

The call: false start. Whatever troubled world these three women live in, they have what they need to stay alive without needing to call on a sailor for rescue, but it would be nice if women could do something other than fight off sexual predators.

The New Power Brokers

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Toyota chronicles the inspiring story of football phenom Toni Harris, East Los Angeles College defensive back–no kicker avoiding the ruffing here. As one of the first female athletes to place college football, her story is certain to motivate a generation of future football stars.  Toyotas and features game footage and off the field shots standard for any up and coming football star a-la-ESPN. She is presented as powerful, positive, and inspiring without pandering or paternalizing.  Here’s hoping we’ll see her on the field in the big game soon.

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Serena Williams starred in an ad for social app Bumble and served as co-creative director off camera for the campaign as well.  Neither mermaid or murderer,  Serena plays a real authentic version of a contemporary woman in the ad, doing real things like working and spending time with family and friends.  She is not a magical creature, or a fictional femme fatal, just a person looking to succeed and thrive, using a connecting app to connect all the parts of her life, not just dating. The ad speaks to real women’s needs: the need to get shit done without waiting for Mr. Big, the need for empowerment that relies on fresh, decolonized ways of being powerful. Of all the women we see featured in their own Superbowl ads–including the lovely and underutilized Cardi B–Serena seems the most authentically human, and the one that many women who work hard and want to watch the game with her girls are likely to recognize themselves in.  The ad speaks to women in a way that is free from typical patriarchial narratives, and one that doesn’t center sex as a selling point.  The ad really does speak to women as if they are full humans, though I wonder if the NFL would have given Serena a 3/5ths instead.

The call: touchdown! The push to topple patriarchy means women are moving to take their rightful place in our culture; advertisers must keep working to write the new narratives that reflect our changing gender landscape in America.  If the Superbowl ads are any indication, we still have a ways to go to shed the centuries-old stories dotted with damsels and doll-eyed beauties. One thing I know is that when we have women behind the camera and in leadership roles on creative teams we stand a good chance of getting more authentic images, the kind that will woo consumers and inspire girls looking for images that fell like them

The Revolution Will Not Be Commodified

The Superbowl is  America’s highest secular holiday, a day where we celebrate the holy trinity of violence, fatty snacks, and great ads.  This year a 30-second spot during the Superbowl ran for a cool 5 mil.  Just like the teams on the field, advertisers have to go big or go home.  Making a play for the woke heart of America, Ram trucks gave us this spot, voiced over by none other than Martin Luther King, Jr himself.

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Yup, this ad went too far in pairing the eloquent and weighty words of a civil rights icon with a five thousand pound piece of environment-destroying metal with a lovely crew cab.   The pairing is as good as strawberry milk and shrimp: the MLK voiceover is too meaningful to stuff its authenticity into a pickup truck and the truck ad does nothing to add to our understanding of the great leader.  Lose-lose, just like the Eagles Patriots

The twitter machine is already chewing Dodge a new ass for the ad, and the King estate has confirmed that they had no part in lending the icon’s voice to the advertiser.  By tomorrow, the tepid apology or some version of a mea culpa will slap back the controversy and we’ll move on to the next.

Advertisers are riding a razor-thin line when they leverage the political and social upheaval in the zeitgeist for their ads.  Those who are in touch with their audience and talking with them instead of at them can really use the moment to show an authentic connection with their consumers.  This T Mobile ad that also ran during the Superbowl tried to connect with consumers who care about a number of movements:

Brands are best when they jump into movements to get important messages out without hoeing out the message for the sake of the brand.  In case you missed it Burger King did just that recently with their whopper neutrality ad:

You’ve got to get in the game if you want to win, so brands are bold to not shy away from what is happening in the world.  But to actually win, you have to do your homework.  Companies do themselves and the movements they purport to care about a disservice when they use social change as a costume they try on to sell soda or soap or trucks. Stripping the important events of our time and filling it with the same capitalist messages that have fed the inequality leading to this moment can leave audiences upset, brands tarnished and important social moments cheapened. Do better Ram, or stick with your Vikings.

More Ball, Less Boobs: SMNTKS Super Bowl Ad Review

Getting those snacks ready for tomorrow?  Don’t forget your pad and pencil for scoring a full card of million-dollar commercials.  Make sure you are the master of water cooler chat with this smntks primer on the slate of ads.  What’s going to be hot?

Puppies!!

Yup, soft, fuzzy bouncy bundles of joy–everybody loves ’em, even big boy advertiser Budweiser who will feature a sweet, sweet blonde golden retriever for family friendly brand buzz without the typical T and A you might expect from the Super Bowl.  With an increase in customer push back on inappropriate ads, puppies are as safe as blue chip stock.  Budweiser’s already enjoyed lots of pre game buzz with this ad, and with the cute butt in this ad it’s sure to get shared long after the game is done.

Super First Timers

Several advertisers from brand new and old will be making their first appearance at the big game.  Cheerios, covered here, and Heinz make their first appearance despite over century combined in business and newbie tech company Squarespace will join them with a horror-themed spot that will make you rethink browsing.

Drives off the Field

Eating up lots of commercial time, car companies will be wowing us with adventures thrilling and bizarre.  Volkswagen’s angels, Jaguar’s spies, Hyundai’s super dad and the muppets all make a play for car lovers’ cache.

Whole Lotta Love

There are fewer super sexual ads, but that doesn’t mean love is off limits.  Axe, Chobani and Chevy all rev up the love meter.  Don’t expect any kind of rom-com you’re used to.  Dictator’s gone lovestruck, yogurt stains and a bull in the mood for love make these ads more funny or strange than flirty.

Without a fratboy’s-eye-view of the ladies scheduled for tomorrow, smntks is looking forward to some good football.  And the ads–are you likely to surface from the Super Bowl with a shopping list?  Probably not–these big day ads are all about growing our warm fuzzy feelings for featured brands.  Don’t expect the hard sell with tomorrow’s ads, but with all the money and eyeballs, you’ll definitely have some ads worth talking about for your Monday morning quarterbacking.

Cheerios Graces Superbowl With Interracial Family’s Return

Sunday’s Super Bowl is here!  If you can’t decide between the Seahawks and the Broncos then you’re probably one of millions of Americans that tune in to the big game to see the commercials.  The Super Bowl is the single biggest draw for advertisers all year.  With a $4 million price tag for every 30 seconds, all the advertisers are going to want the biggest bang for their buck.  Cheerios is making their first Super Bowl ad debut in the 48 year history of the game.

This spot, entitled Gracie is a follow up starring the interracial family from this summer’s spot, discussed right here on smntks.  So when General Mills finally decides to pony up the $133,000 per second for an ad on the big day, they choose to feature a family that created more controversy than any other Cheerios pitchman.  What gives?

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What gives is that Gracie and her interracial TV Mom and Pop turn out to be good business.  When Gracie first appeared in the summer, trolls tweeted out a host of hateful comments about the ad and interracial families in general.  That would have been  a sad end to the story, but haters weren’t the only ones that took to the web.

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Many more thousands of people weighed in with their support for the positive representation of interracial families.  Cheerios themselves celebrates We are the 15% , a real world group formed in support of families like Gracie’s own fictitious folks.  Social media and mainstream talk also weighed in to support what is increasingly a portion of the continuum of normal families in America.  The moral of this story?  The changing face of America has a place and space in mainstream media.

Gracie’s return to the airwaves should come as no surprise to her many supporters.  What is more interesting is that General Mills is willing to put 4 million cheerios front and center  Super Bowl Sunday to bet on the mass appeal of a multiracial household.    Running the ad on the biggest day of the year tells us that when all was said and done in the summer, customers responded positively to the representation of interracial families.

Is the Gracie series racist?  No. True, they are leveraging public support to improve their brand, but that’s all about green, not just black and white.  So Sunday, pour out a little salsa for Cheerios’ fan favorite fam.  And General Mills, since it’s working so well to show families stereotype free, maybe you could stop with the cool-ed up Nelly-Bee…or did you mean to play both sides?