Super Bowl Ads Highlight Feminization of America

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

The Super Bowl isn’t really a sporting event anymore; it’s a cultural event. As such, it can tell us a lot about where our culture is headed. Based on the ads during Super Bowl XLIX, the feminization of the United States is well advanced.

This year, few of the ads had anything to do with the game, or even seemed to acknowledge there was, indeed, a game. On the field, the football was as violent as ever — witness the Seahawk who intercepted a pass in the first quarter, then was carted off the field with a broken arm.

But the ads that followed that injury tended to be both kinder and gentler.

Consider the nearly identical ads from Toyota and Dove. Both ads centered on the idea that fathers should be nice to their children. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

But what’s the tie-in between dancing with your daughter and driving a Camry? What’s the tie-in between hugging your child and showering? Neither ad seemed to have much to do with selling cars or shampoo.

A generation ago, the ads featured beer bottles playing football (Budweiser) or an “office linebacker” tackling employees (Reebok). The game was the cultural touchpoint. This year, touching seemed to be the only touchpoint.

Super Bowl ads have always been a leading indicator of where things are heading. At the turn of the century, the game was filled with dot-com ads. The ads themselves were often foolish — see the sock puppet — but the goal was to encourage you to go to the dot-com website at some point.

This year, though, advertisers almost seemed embarrassed to be trying to peddle a product. In the case of the Dove ad, the product on offer didn’t even appear until the very end of the commercial, leaving viewers at my Super Bowl party wondering what it was an ad for.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in the fact that it was the makers of smartphone apps — products designed to do nothing except allow you to waste your time — that were willing to actually encourage people to use their product.

For advertisers, the value of the Super Bowl is it’s probably the final place they have a captive audience. Most people want to watch the game in real time, and so must sit through the commercials to do so.

So the question becomes: Can a kinder, gentler NFL retain the interest of Americans? If the Super Bowl ads are any indication, it’s going to have to.