When she’s not busy preparing Totino’s pizza rolls for her husband and his friends during the Super Bowl, what’s a woman to do? Well, if it’s SNL, she can turn to Totino’s Super Bowl Activity Pack for Women, a collection of “fun little puzzles and games.” But if it’s not a sketch show and instead real life, she can, in fact, enjoy the actual Big Game. And this year, thanks to savvy marketing by brands and the NFL, she can feel like she belongs in the audience.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, for decades the NFL and Super Bowl advertising have centered around men. Pathmatics shows that from January 2020 to January 2023, 70% of the NFL’s paid Facebook advertising has been allocated toward men. Not only are the ads themselves focused on men, some of the most active industries in Super Bowl advertising, such as beer, are more popular with men than women, according to Mintel’s Beer – US, 2022.
It’s a massive missed opportunity, as Mintel data shows that football is the top followed sport by women. And the women that do follow football are incredibly engaged; nearly 90% of female US football fans regularly watch, listen to, or follow the NFL. Football’s female fanbase is only getting stronger. Data from Harris Poll and Marketing Brew shows three-quarters of women said they’d likely watch the Super Bowl this year, up from 62% who said the same last year, and 50% who said they did in 2021.
Brands Invite Women Off the Sidelines
Super Bowl XVII sent a different message, one that will hopefully begin to change perceptions around what a typical Super Bowl audience looks like. The game kicked off with the Super Bowl flyover – for the first time featuring all female pilots. One pregame commercial focused on menopause education, specifically around VMS (Vasomotor Symptoms). Then, in direct contrast to previous ads that inspired SNL’s sketches, this year’s ads showed women coaching athletes, watching sports, and playing sports themselves.
Even if they weren’t engaging with sports, women were a core part of creative strategies. Whether they were recording music, snacking, or roasting Mr. Peanut, there were at least 31 cameos from female celebrities and athletes like Missy Elliott, Maya Rudolph, and Alex Morgan, as well as at least 26 spots featuring people who publicly identify as women. Not to mention, the beauty brand, e.l.f., made its Super Bowl debut with Jennifer Coolidge this year, providing some variety to the types of industries typically featured. They may just be ads, but nearly half of US women agree that brands have the power to help eliminate gender roles and stereotypes.
Consumer response to these ads was extremely positive. The Run With It spot featuring flag football star Diana Flores was ranked the second most popular ad in USA Today’s Ad meter.
Of course, the cherry on top was the fact that these ads bookended an incredible solo halftime performance from Rihanna, who performed while pregnant.
While it’s helpful to quantify representation and inclusion, the end goal is less about making sure all commercials or partnerships are equally divided between different gender identities and more about working to reframe who we think of when we think of a football fan. The Super Bowl is a massive cultural phenomenon, with 113 million viewers this year, and ads should accurately reflect what that audience looks like.
For inspiration on how to execute inclusivity creatively and thoughtfully, brands don’t have to look too far from this year’s game. Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty and Fenty Beauty brands are best-in-class examples of well-intentioned inclusivity. When launching Savage X Fenty and Fenty Beauty, Rihanna did not say outright that these brands would be the inclusive lingerie or cosmetics brands; instead, more powerfully, she showed it. Images showcased products on a variety of body types, gender identities, and skin tones without drawing additional attention to it. The sentiment was clear – inclusive product lines and advertising shouldn’t be a big deal. They should be the rule, not the exception.
What We Think
Of course, this isn’t the first year that brands have stepped up to improve women’s representation in Super Bowl advertising. Olay’s Make Space for Women spot in 2020 championed women’s inclusion in STEM fields and Always’s 2015 Like a Girl spot encouraged strong self-esteem among girls. But those efforts were few and far between. From our Consulting work at Mintel, we know how important it is to not just pay attention to peer brands but also to your audience, grabbing their attention with creatives grounded in your brand identity and purpose. It’s clear that this year, brands began to get the message. The fact that this year’s ads featured women seamlessly throughout the game and commercial viewing experience, rather than just as a part of cause-related marketing, is a sign that representation is here to stay.