Along with the Michelob Ultra and Bud Light Next ads, the agency’s spot for TurboTax/Intuit, starring Jason Sudeikis, was shot by female director and artist Alex Prager, repped out of Arts & Sciences. Prager herself has beer cred—she had directed Anheuser-Busch’s “Welcome Back” spot that was part of the brand’s vaccine push last June, also via W+K, as well as Miller Lite’s weirdly fascinating holiday ad and art exhibit featuring white-collar holiday revelers, via DDB.
That said, 10 spots with diverse directors compared to last year’s 8 doesn’t really represent progress, some say. “I feel it’s gotten worse because there was more awareness of the issue this past year than ever before," said Brown. "It was very pointed that last year was bad, but we’ve had a year of this conversation now and nothing changed, so actually, I think in a way, it’s worse than last year.”
Production and agency execs tie the director diversity problem to the lack of opportunities for diverse talents endemic to the industry at large. One agency production vet observed that the lack of diverse talents behind the camera may correlate to the staple of Super Bowl advertising—comedy. The vet noted how most of the director diversity can be seen with visual spots, but in comedy, the genre is dominated by white men, many who hail from an advertising background.
“Comedy-dialogue is still for whatever reason restricted to a dozen established white male creatives,” the vet observed. “Many of them are descendants of the advertising industry; usually there's a former creative director somewhere in there.” Comedy A-listers and go-to Super Bowl directors such as Matt Aselton, Bryan Buckley, Tom Kuntz, Jim Jenkins, David Shane and Stacy Wall got their starts as ad creatives. So even before they sat behind the camera, they got experience creating compelling 30-second stories that resonate with audiences. The same can’t be said of diverse talents in advertising.
“When you look at the type of work that's done for the Super Bowl, usually, it’s bro humor,” adds Che. “There’s not diversity of thought, diversity of creative. I love ‘Cable Guy’ and Jim Carrey as much as the next guy, but we’re just recycling. If you’re going to have bro humor, then it makes sense that you hire those who understand that kind of humor.”
Little Minx Executive Producer Helen Hollien offered, “We need a quiet change, which might be seeing more high-caliber Black agency creatives.”
“If you truly want to be diverse, you simply have to award the job to a diverse director,” said Eleanor's Gold. “What I've observed a lot is that the people who have the power to make the choice as to which director they can hire, they’re the very ones saying, ‘How do we become more diverse?’ It’s almost as if your child says, ‘Mommy, I want an ice cream,’ and the mom says, ‘I don’t even know how we’re gonna get the ice cream! We have to plot the route to the ice cream shop, come up with the $2, put together a 20-page deck and brainstorm about this ice cream.”
Production leaders including Little Minx's Scott acknowledge that a Super Bowl-sized job has a lot riding on it, so brand leaders want to feel as secure as possible and go with seasoned game day talents. There are ways to increase the comfort level around newer helmers, however. "The Super Bowl is one month in the year," Scott said. "There are 11 other months that agency producers and creatives can try out a relationship with a different director, to build trust. Then they can comfortably go to BIPOC directors for these big Super Bowl projects.”
Other avenues to make room for diverse talent include “Double the Line,” an initiative conceived by Prettybird’s Brown and backed by the AICP. "Double the Line" encourages agencies and clients to double the role of any single production position on a commercial bid and cover that cost, to allow a BIPOC talent to gain experience by working alongside the chosen candidate.
Also read: Super Bowl ads show limited diversity and inclusion progress
For the livelihood of the industry, production vets say it’s crucial that directors who don’t have Super Bowl experience, diverse or not, get a shot. If the industry is only entrusting big-ticket spots to the most seasoned talents, “at some point, those guys are going to retire and then there’s going to be this huge vacuum,” Gold said. “A lot of diverse directors can’t even stay in the game long enough to get the experience that would allow them to be seen as worthy to be on the Super Bowl stage because they’ve got to pay their bills. If they pitch 10 projects and don’t get them, you say, ‘I’ve got to pivot; I’ve got to do something else.’
A new definition of ‘safe’
For advertisers who express wanting to go with “safe” directors who have previously directed Big Game ads, some observers suggest they broaden their views on what “playing it safe” means.
The AICP E&I sub-committee guidelines encourage advertisers and agencies to be open to underrepresented talent because they may have come from established film and television careers.
Also, "factoring in the track record of a production company, aside from the individual director, is going to be critical in opening up that space," said Prettybird’s Brown. Gold agreed that seeking out talent from established production companies may be the additional safety net an agency or brand might need. “We’re not going to submit a director who’s just going to screw it up,” she said. “We’d get fired.”
It also might pay off to stretch beyond the traditional Super Bowl slapstick. “Bro humor isn’t the only way to entertain," said Che. "If you look at the biggest comedians in the world, the most popular music in the world, it’s from the culture. There is a place for Lay’s, Verizon, but there isn’t a balance. You can dimensionalize that. That's not to say that Black directors are only good to shoot commercials that have Black humor or Black music. We're diverse in our abilities, diverse in thought.”