Does Sexism Sell? With Super Bowl Commercials, Not Really


Chalk one up for the goodness of humanity: By every measure available so far, the most popular Super Bowl Ads for the most watched television event in history had nothing to with the bitches keeping bros down.

Super Bowl marketing is never a model of enlightened values, but we weren’t the only ones to note that this year saw a particularly nasty and uninspired brand of misogyny. Despite the broadcast’s growing female audience, several marketers told women in every way possible that not only were they unnecessary to their commercial calculations, they were actually castrating bitches keeping a man down.

But, hey, this is business. If it’s not the industry’s job to represent humanity in its most uplifting form, at least it knows what works, right?

Well, no — at least not when it comes to the Go Daddys and Dodges of the world. A look at all the available data, rankings variously based on focus groups, online buzz, and detailed surveys, what we would consider the most offensive ads had lackluster ratings and in some cases, high negativity indices.

What were the best-reviewed and most-buzzed about ads? Overwhelmingly, Doritos (especially its slapstick “Underdog” and sitcom-y “House Rules” spots, both of which were consumer-created), Snickers (with Betty White) and various Budweiser spots topped all of these rankings. The most misogynistic ads — Bridgestone’s “Your Tires Or Your Life,” FloTV’s spineless male shopper, both of GoDaddy’s spots, Dodge’s sullen hatred — barely registered. The Dockers “Wear The Pants” campaign, a more subtly sexist affair, drew mixed reviews. (Let’s put the more complex Tebow ad in a separate category for now).

One of the most established ways for rating Super Bowl ads is USA Today‘s Ad Meter, which measures real-time reactions from a focus group of viewers. They loved Snickers and Doritos, but none of the most misogynistic ads ranked in the top 20 — Dodge was number 23, Budweiser’s Book Club (the beer brand’s offensive spot was only sometimes broken out in these lists) ranked at 25, and FloTV’s sexist spot (as opposed to its “My Generation” ad) was, at 36, near the middle. At the bottom were Dockers at #59 and GoDaddy at #60 and #63.

Hulu’s AdZone is allowing viewers to vote through Tuesday night. The winners so far, across gender? Doritos, Snickers, Google, and E-Trade. Further down on the list, Dockers, FloTV, Budweiser’s Book Club, and GoDaddy have all gotten negative ratings far outstripping their positives.

Marketing firm Alterian measured two aspects of social media: engagement (how much people were talking about the ads) and sentiment (how much they talked about it AND how strongly they felt about it). GoDaddy and Focus On The Family had high reach but very negative ratings. At the bottom of the sentiment index — the most negative reactions — were Bridgestone and GoDaddy. (Not all the commercials made the list).

In Media Curve’s online survey — which asked a few thousand people to answer detailed questions about their reactions to the ads — the top five were roughly the same as in other studies — Snickers, Budweiser (the one with animals), Doritos, and FloTV’s non-sexist ad, “My Generation.” The worst offenders were near the bottom, starting with FloTV at #41 and Bridgestone’s “Your Tires Or Your Wife” at #67. Near the very bottom were Dodge, Dockers, and GoDaddy. (The Mediacurve survey has more entries on its ranking, probably because it broke out all the CBS spots).

Zeta Interactive put the Dockers ad near the very bottom of online buzz, indexed by positive feedback. None of the most sexist ads were in its top ten most buzzed about ads. Not on the top ten on AOL’s Fanhouse, either.

Among the top ten watched videos in Business Insider’s list of the most viral commercials, only Dockers cracks the top ten. (Tebow is also on it). Mullen’s Twittersphere got slightly different results: Focus On The Family at third, Go Daddy at ninth. But GoDaddy did poorly among the 1,500 respondents to ChaCha’s text survey (an entirely unscientific sample): they liked Doritos best and hated GoDaddy most.

There are a couple of studies that have yet to be released; we’ll update you then. But for now, Madison Avenue, are you listening?

Super Bowl Ad Meter [USA Today]
Twittersphere Rankings [Mullen]
Doritos Wins Super Bowl Web Buzz Battle [Brandweek]
Super Bowl AdZone [Hulu]
BuzzBowl [Alterian]
Super Bowl Ad Test [MediaCurve]
Top 10 Most Viral Super Bowl Ads 2010 [Business Insider]
Late Show Producer Tells All About Letterman-Leno Ad [NBC Sports]
Super Bowl Ads [AOL Fanhouse]

Related: The Castrating Woman: Rising From The Unconscious At The Super Bowl [Psychology Today]
Earlier: The Critics On The Super Bowl: Boring, Misogynistic
Woes Of Bros: Super Bowl Ads Star Pathetic Men — And The Women Who Ruined Them

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