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Where Were Women's Brands in Super Bowl Ads?

It's tradition in the marketing and advertising world that in the days right after the Super Bowl, both criticism and applause ring out for the various ads that aired during the big event. I'll leave the critiques around talent, spend, memorability, action and all around creative concepting to others. We all know that will get covered extensively.


But there is one thing that I found strikingly absent. Brands meant for women. To be clear, I am not talking about ads that featured women in them. I'm talking about brands specific to women or intentionally targeting women with their ads.


The Swift Effect

There's been much hype this NFL season around the Taylor Swift effect - increasing female viewership. The NFL's intentional investment in building women viewership and fanbase beyond the Taylor Swift effect has also been widely covered, see this and this. And there was an assumption by some that due to the Swift effect, that more ads would cater to women.


There were 58 ads scheduled during Super Bowl Sunday. Of those, the only ones I saw that were for women's brands or intentionally targeting women? Just 3.


Verizon's Ad featuring Beyoncé




Dove's Ad



e.l.f. Cosmetic's Ad



Verizon, Dove and e.l.f. Cosmetics were the only three brands that were intentionally and overtly targeted towards and for women. Everything else was either targeting men or featuring men's products.


But Why?

As a feminist, I find this frustrating that even though women are a massive viewing demographic, the ads don't necessarily reflect it. But as a marketer and strategist I realize there could be a multitude of reasons that the marketing and advertising teams went this route:

  • Budget: Just to purchase a :30 spot was ~$7 million. That doesn't include production of the spot itself. Some brands may have determined that their ad spend could be better spent on other initiatives that are more highly targeted. Many brands who used to spend big for past Super Bowls like Gatorade, Pepsi and Coca Cola either weren't present at all this year.

  • Strategy: Brands' marketing strategies may have necessitated an intentional focus on men as their target audience. And there's nothing wrong with that. If it's your strategy, stick to it.

  • Research: Most brands who spend 7 figures on an ad buy are going to research and test the heck out of their spots. Audience research may have led them where they netted out. And if your audience research is telling you this is where you need to go, you follow the research because it's there for a reason.

  • Fear: When you're spending boku bucks to be viewed by ~120 million people, there can sometimes be a tendency to play it safe or stick to the audience you know. If you get it wrong by focusing on the wrong audience or ad concept, that's millions of dollars wasted and potential reputational damage for the brand. That's a lot of pressure and it can come into play.

  • Timing: Ad slots for the Super Bowl were virtually sold out by the beginning of November. I would not be surprised if ad concepting began way before the media spend. So there's a possibility that the brands' Super Bowl ads were already too far down the path to be able to pivot and capitalize on the Swift effect. This one is purely conjecture on my part since I am obviously not on those teams or in those meetings, but it's a possibility.


There's Always Next Year

While I was disappointed to see the lack of female brands this year, I hope that next year's presence and representation shifts to better reflect the increasing shift in women's viewership of the NFL. The more the experience caters to its various audiences, the better the experience - and feeling of inclusion - becomes for all. But for now, the football season is over, the Chiefs won...again... and the advertisers who made these ads worked their tails off and probably need a vacation and a giant nap to recover.


Let's Connect

Like what you read here? Considering how it might apply to your own business? Then let's connect and get started.




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