Super Bowl

Super Bowl Confessionals: Women Want Humor and Sex Appeal in Ads

OK -- And Maybe a Cute Animal

By Published on .

Last year, the Super Bowl XLVI TV broadcast drew 111.5 million viewers, 51 million of whom were women.

In other words, behind (or more accurately, next to) almost every touchdown-cheering, beer-drinking, buffalo wing-eating male Super Bowl viewer, there's a woman who's also following every sack and fumble, rooting for her team -- and watching the same ads.

Over the past decade, the gender gap in the Super Bowl audience has narrowed from 14 percentage points in 2002 to last year's 54%-46% breakdown, according to Sports Business Daily. To put the significance of last year's 51 million female viewers in perspective, compare it with the 39 million total audience for the 2012 Academy Awards, an event that has traditionally been termed "the Super Bowl for Women."

Add the fact that 55% of women report that they watch regular season football, and that women account for more than 20% of all fantasy football players and it's clear that the football gender paradigm has shifted.

The NFL certainly seems to have acknowledged as much. In the past decade it has launched several female-centric marketing and outreach programs, including coaching clinics and donning pink during breast-cancer awareness month. And just last August, the NFL launched its biggest marketing campaign to date focused on women with the "It's My Team" women's fan gear promotion.

Clearly, the NFL has adjusted its marketing strategy to fit its new audience dynamic. The question is, do Super Bowl advertisers need to do so as well?

The debate over the supposed gender gap in Super Bowl advertising has become a pre-Bowl perennial, with industry pundits postulating that Super Bowl advertisers are missing the boat on targeting women. Pointing to the statistic that women are the primary decision makers on 85% of household purchases, the experts theorize that women feel ignored by marketers during Super Bowl, and even worse, are offended by the content of Super Bowl ads for whom the target audience appears to be the members of your local Sigma Nu chapter.

But after a year in which "Fifty Shades of Grey" racked up a half a billion dollars in gross sales, pole-dancing classes went mainstream and "Magic Mike" was a multiplex marvel, is this conventional wisdom perhaps more quaint than qualified?

Straight to the source
To find out, PHD Media went right to the source, asking 1,000 women and men ages 18-59 to step into our Super Bowl Confessional, where we learned that when it comes to the Super Bowl, men and women are reading from the same playbook in a lot of areas:

  • While the male/female breakdown on intent to watch is balanced at 88/84%, more women (46%) than men (36%) plan to share ads they like on social media. The same goes for watching ads online, with 55% of women saying they do vs. 47% of men.

  • Both men (76%) and women (68%) ranked wit and humor as the No. 1 attribute that makes a Super Bowl enjoyable. As a result, both sexes claimed the same two favorite spots from the 2012 game: Doritos' "Man's Best Friend" and Honda's "Matthew's Day Off."

  • "Man's Best Friend" benefited from also including the No. 2 attribute for women: cute animals. However, animal instincts of a different nature claimed this slot among men, who ranked sexy imagery and innuendo as their second-favorite attribute.

  • But don't think this means that women don't want to see sexy ads. As a matter of fact, 69% of women 18-59 and 74% of women 18-34 told us that they like the sexy imagery in Super Bowl advertising (compared with 85% of men -- which makes us wonder if the other 15% understood the question.)

  • And countering the claim that Super Bowl advertisers are ignoring or offending female fans, nearly half of all female respondents said they see the ads as targeting women and/or both genders.

This is not to say that female respondents have no complaints about sexual content in Super Bowl ads. In what could best be described as a call for equal opportunity for the sexes, the women in our survey said they want to see more sexy men in Super Bowl ads. When asked why, many said this type of imagery is everywhere today, including in their favorite TV shows, so "they've come to expect it," it's "all in good fun" and "gets their attention."

Or maybe it's just the combined influence of Christian Grey and "Magic Mike."

So here's our advice to Super Bowl advertisers: Let the pundits continue to wax hysterical about the Super Bowl advertising gender gap. Concentrate on relevant messages delivered in a funny or sexy way -- preferably with an animal or two in the mix -- you'll connect with women watching the game. They can be your biggest advocates of your advertising online and through social media. Focus on engaging and re-engage with female fans -- perhaps with more laughter, a sexy man . . . or 10.

Kim Bates is U.S. head of brand planning for PHD Media, an Omnicom Media Group company. Bates is recognized trends expert and founder of The WSDM, the first live Wisdom Sharing Salon for Women of all ages in New York.
Most Popular