National NOW Foundation Times  >> Spring 2008 >> Article

Feminist Super Bowl AdWatch Finds Few Women, But Plenty of Demeaning Stereotypes

By Lisa Bennett, Communications Director

'The 'underdog' Charlie Brown gets it!' said feminist monitor Amy of  D.C., in her review of this Coke commercial, which finished as one of the most positive, least offensive ads in NOW Foundation's 2008 Super Bowl AdWatch.
"The 'underdog' Charlie Brown gets it!" said feminist monitor Amy of D.C., in her review of this Coke commercial, which finished as one of the most positive, least offensive ads in NOW Foundation's 2008 Super Bowl AdWatch.

"Where were the women?" asked monitors in NOW Foundation's 2008 Feminist Super Bowl AdWatch. So why were we watching Super Bowl ads? Because for advertisers who pay millions for a 30-second spot, this is a highly-competitive opportunity to showcase their best and most creative concepts. When advertisers are doing their very best work, where do they put women?

"By the second quarter, I said to my friends that there were more animals in the ads than women," said Karen from Florida.

"Women were virtually non-existent in speaking roles and the overwhelming tone exalted violence," reported Gail from Texas. Another monitor stressed that when women were shown, they were passive objects -- not active players in the storyline. Often, women's sexual availability to men was central to the theme of the sales pitch.

"The NOW Foundation went on the offensive this year with our Super Bowl AdWatch," said NOW Foundation President Kim Gandy. "The Super Bowl is much more than a championship football game. As the most watched television event of the year, it attracts enormous attention not just for the opposing teams but for the commercials, too."

An average of 97.5 million viewers watched this year's game, with a total of 148 million people tuning in for at least part of the event -- making it the most watched Super Bowl ever. According to TiVo, Inc., this Super Bowl was one of the few telecasts where more people watched the commercials than the game.

"Almost as many women as men watch the Super Bowl, and millions of girls and boys are glued to the screen as well," said Gandy. "That's why our feminist ad-watchers paid close attention to the commercials and ranked them based on their portrayal of women and others who are often stereotyped, ridiculed or just plain benched from high-profile ads."

Monitors rated ads based on representation/diversity, sexual exploitation, violence, and social responsibility. They voted GoDaddy.com's ad, which promised more "exposure" of race car driver Danica Patrick online, the most offensive ad of the night. The Planters commercial, which portrayed men leering at a supposedly unattractive woman who had rubbed cashews on her skin, was a close second.

In addition to overlooked or overly-sexualized women, monitors reported that the use of diversity in the ads could often be boiled down to racism and "ethnic exploitation," with stereotyped and cartoonish characters. Bud Light and Taco Bell were two top offenders.

"Fox charged $2.7 million for 30 seconds of commercial time. If advertisers are willing to hand over that kind of dough, clearly they believe their commercials will make a big impact on the viewing audience," Gandy said. "We agree. Advertising does matter in our media-saturated culture. The portrayal of women and girls, people of color, and other disenfranchised groups can affect how they are viewed in society and how they feel about themselves."

The NOW Foundation encourages all viewers to talk back when they see offensive ads, by writing to both the advertiser and the media outlet that ran the ad. Read the full report online.