Point/Counterpoint: Do Super Bowl ads reinforce negative stereotypes?

BY DI STAFF | JANUARY 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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Sunday’s Super Bowl will not only be the most-watched evening of TV all year but also the year’s largest advertising bonanza with 30-second spots going for around $4 million. They’re immensely popular, but are these ads bad for society or are they harmless fun?

They’re bad news

Virtually everyone loves the Super Bowl and anxiously awaits the wonderful commercials that air during it.

But what people fail to realize is that these Super Bowl commercials advertise a lot more than the products or services that companies are trying to get people to spend bucks on. Along with the materialistic ideas that Super Bowl commercials perpetuate for our highly materialistic society, they are also incessantly promoting sexist values.

Anyone who has ever seen even one or two Super Bowl ads can quickly pick up on that.

Take last year’s Go Daddy commercial, for instance. The company tells people that small businesses should have a “sexy side,” which is represented by Israeli fashion model Bar Rafaeli, and a “smart side,” which is represented by an unattractive dude called Walter. The company says they are a good mix of smart and sexy, and the commercial ends with Bar and Walter making out.

Whereas it might seem like Go Daddy is just lightheartedly trying to promote its website hosting service, what it’s actually saying to the American public is “girls are supposed to be sexy, boys are supposed to be smart.” And from the sight of Bar and Walter kissing passionately, it’s obvious that the two (smart and sexy) are inherently separate entities.

Surprisingly, this commercial was one of the less misogynistic ones, especially in comparison with the Audi ad.

In that commercial, a dateless nerd goes to his prom and ambushes the prom queen on the dance floor, forcing her to kiss him. As a result (even though the girl is shown to have liked the forced sexual encounter, a.k.a. sexual assault) the girl’s jock boyfriend gives the nerd a black eye. But, the nerd drives away in his Audi content with the night’s events.

Although Audi markets this as bravery, what it really represents is America’s prevalent rape culture and the belief that men have to assert dominance and control over a woman’s body to prove their masculinity.

There are numerous other ridiculous commercials — such as the Doritos commercial from Super Bowl XLVII — featuring big-breasted women with full lips, beautiful long hair, and perfect skin to attract people.

Because no one would buy Doritos if they hadn’t seen a “sexy” woman covered in them on TV.

Obviously, I’m being sarcastic. It’s not at all necessary for huge corporations to advertise their products by objectifying women. There are so many positive ways in which commercials could be directed — such as last year’s interracial Cheerios commercial, which (not surprisingly) many idiotic people found to be outrageous.

But perhaps the sad truth is that rather than influencing our society’s values, the commercials are simply representing them.

— Sri Ponnada

They’re harmless

If the biggest part of your Super Bowl Sunday is the slew of entertaining commercials, you’re not alone. Many viewers admit it’s the sole reason they tune in. Because the game draws in such a large, diverse crowd of people from all over the country, companies change their advertising in a fashion that drops dull, repetitive stereotypes for commercials that are more relatable, memorable, and socially harmless.

It’s important to note that the discussion isn’t about your typical football programming. If that were the case, I’d be on the other side of the spectrum. Advertisements for beer and trucks are the main culprits of perpetuating social stereotypes, inviting you — commercial break after commercial break — to “grab some Buds and laugh at women” or “be a cowboy,” respectively. It’s made me quite the pessimist.

But even these strongly rooted campaigns are shaken up by Super Bowl advertising. For example, note last year’s Budweiser commercial. A Clydesdale breeder raises and then sends one of his horses off to join the Budweiser team and, after driving to view a parade in the city, has a touching reunion with the animal. He even rests his face against the creature and gives it a hug as our hearts are torn out and stomped on by Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” It hardly imposes the typical idea of “masculinity.”

An older commercial for EDS, a data-systems company, depicted the hardships of ranching cats — yes, cats — poking fun at “rugged-man” populism we usually see from Chevy or Dodge. And as far as sexuality is concerned, a Dockers commercial from 2010, featuring middle-aged men in briefs marching through a field and chanting that they “wear no pants,” marked a dramatic shift in the way advertising features the human body.

With a price tag running around $4 million per slot this year, companies can’t afford to be drab, offensive, or repetitive. Considering that around half of Super Bowl viewers are women, it wouldn’t make sense to force the audience to pick a side on anything. The advent of social networking, giving people a chance to quickly complain, also helps keep commercials in check — a barrage of angry tweets and blogs could make that ad space much more costly.

Yes, there are a few bad apples, but they are quickly forgotten. If anything, those making “statements” operate more as social commentaries, much like a standup comedian, or they make fun of typical advertising. Others simply surprise us, tickling the infantile parts of our brains with Dorito samurais and senior citizens acting like teenagers.

— Adam Gromotka

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