Amid seemingly daily accusations of sexual harassment and women stepping up to tell their stories of abuse in the workplace, Super Bowl LII advertisers may want to be thoughtful about how they feature women in their big-game ads.
Portraying women as strong, equal characters during the Super Bowl has not, to say the least, been the priority thus far. The big game has more often been a playground for, if not abject sexism, stereotypical images of females (and males). That's when women get a featured role at all, a subtler but perhaps even more challenging problem.
From casting women as nags to making burger eating nearly a sex act, these spots demonstrate how low Super Bowl advertising can go.
Budweiser "Tune Out," 2004
How is a ref able to ignore the taunts of an irate coach? Years of practice ignoring his nagging wife. This is the message Budweiser sent in its 2004 Super Bowl spot, "Tune Out." Despite the overt negative stereotype, "Tune Out" ranked in the top 10 of USA Today's Ad Meter poll of entertainment value that year, so viewers couldn't have been that offended.
Teleflora, "Valentine's Night," 2012
Teleflora makes a clear promise in its 2012 spot: If a man gives a woman flowers, she will sleep with him. "Give and you shall receive," Adriana Lima says.
Victoria's Secret, "Let the Real Games Begin," 2015
It's not a surprise to see beautiful women in their underwear in a Victoria's Secret commercial. But this 2015 ad—implying that women are waiting in lingerie for the game to end—is less than appealing to the people meant to wear the product. It's similar to the spot Victoria's Secret ran in 2008, when it returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly a decade.
Mr. Clean, "Cleaner of Your Dreams," 2017
Procter & Gamble attempted to appeal to women in its reimaging of Mr. Clean as a sex symbol. But ultimately, the spot played into the idea that it isn't typical for a man to clean, and those that do should be praised or rewarded... with sex. The tagline: "You gotta love a man who cleans."
GoDaddy, "Perfect Match," 2013
It's not the make-out session between a model and a nerd that sparked controversy for GoDaddy's 2013 Super Bowl ad. It was the characterization of the woman as "the sexy" one and the man as "the smart" one that did it.
Of course, it wouldn't have been a GoDaddy ad of the era without some misogyny. The year prior, the company featured fitness guru Jillian Michaels and racecar driver Danica Patrick painting a naked woman to promote its ".co" domain-name extension. And in 2009, GoDaddy showed a "live stream" of Patrick in the shower. In each of the spots GoDaddy urged viewers to "See More" online with a warning-slash-promise that its web content was "unrated."
GoDaddy shifted gears in 2014, moving away from the sexual provocation that dominated its Super Bowl commercials since it started advertising in the big game in 2005.
Best Buy, "Innovators," 2012
Apparently, Best Buy doesn't think there are any women innovators. In its 2012 Super Bowl spot, the electronics store featured inventors—all men. The only women in sight are Best Buy employees.
Honorable mention: Carl's Jr., "Charlotte McKinney," 2015
No list of deplorable depictions of women would be complete without Carl's Jr.
While Carl's Jr. has technically never run a national Super Bowl ad, it got plenty of backlash for its 2015 local spot starring model Charlotte McKinney.
In the ad that aired on the West Coast, McKinney promoted the chain's all-natural burger by baring (almost) all as she walks through a farmers' market seemingly naked, covered by cleverly placed fruits and vegetables. It ends, of course, with her taking a big bite out of the burger.
Carl's Jr. revamped its marketing strategy early last year.