This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Are Reaching Out to Women More Than Ever

Several prominent females are featured during the Big Game

Serena Williams stars in Bumble's Big Game spot. Bumble
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Touted as the world’s largest advertiser, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble is no stranger to Super Bowl advertising. Its spot for Tide in 2018, “It’s a Tide Ad,” was one of the best-remembered from the year. But in 2019, P&G is bringing a different brand to the Super Bowl, with an ad focused on targeting an audience that’s often forgotten when it comes not only to the Big Game, but sports in general: Women.

Olay, the P&G-owned skincare brand, is running its first Super Bowl ad in the game this year, a horror-themed spot starring actress Sarah Michelle Gellar. But beyond the scary substance of the ad, the decision for Olay to get in the game was about a bigger mission: increasing female representation in Super Bowl ads.

The idea was first sparked by the statistic that despite the fact that nearly half of the NFL’s fanbase is female, only a quarter of Super Bowl advertisements are directed towards women, according to Stephanie Robertson, brand director for Olay.

“It’s no secret that Super Bowl ads are predominantly male-centric,” she said. “We wanted to change this dynamic by reaching women on TV’s biggest stage with a message that we hope viewers will find entertaining. Olay wants all women to be bold and empowered, and in a way we’re doing just that, as a brand, by showing up in a place that is historically focused on men.”

Women are at the forefront of several commercials in the Super Bowl this year: Zoe Kravitz stars in Michelob Ultra’s spot, Christina Applegate in M&M’s ad, Serena Williams’s Bumble ad is all about female empowerment and Antoinette “Toni” Harris, one of (if not the) first woman to receive a college football scholarship for a non-kicking position, takes center stage in Toyota’s. In fact, during the first ad break of the Big Game, women led every single spot.

In the age of Time’s Up and #MeToo, this year’s stock of Super Bowl commercials shows that not even one of the world’s most male-dominated events can ignore the power of women any longer.

“With the NFL reporting that women make up about 45 percent of the fan base, it’s about time that advertisers created ads that resonate with them,” said Quynh Mai, founder of digital marketing and creative agency Moving Image & Content.

Mai argues that due to the fact that Super Bowl advertising has been so male-dominated in the past, ads targeted towards women serve as an antidote from the bulk of the offerings. She said: “Creating a Super Bowl ad centered around women breaks through the clutter of the typical commercials and creates a surprising, and therefore memorable, moment during the game.”

This increase in female representation during the Big Game isn’t just about the women in the spots themselves, but the products and services they’re advertising, too: Olay is a skincare brand used by millions of women across the globe, while Bumble has worked to label itself as the feminist dating app by only allowing women to initiate conversations.

What’s also monumental is the way these ads portray women, in a more progressive light than perhaps ever before. “No longer is it appropriate to have boys ogling Cindy Crawford drinking a Pepsi, or have Danica Patrick tease the audience into thinking she’s wearing next to nothing,” said Tom Denari, president at Young & Laramore. “Marketers finally understand how inappropriate that was and are now featuring women in strong, heroic roles—not just a images to be gawked at.”

This increase in female representation during the Big Game isn’t just something women want, Mai added. “Female empowerment is not only important to women, but to families, who make up an important part of the Super Bowl audience,” she said. “Fathers, brothers, uncles who want to advocate for the women and girls in their lives, especially in the face of #MeToo, are acutely tuned in to messages about women’s equality. Super Bowl viewing is often a group affair, and by speaking to men and women, commercials can fuel interest and conversation.”

Perhaps no appearance illustrates the evolving portrayal of women in Super Bowl spots than Harris’s. As a young female football player herself, she represents the change that could eventually come not just to the Super Bowl’s advertising lineup, but to the NFL itself.

“I’m glad I was chosen for this,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to share my story as a woman and an athlete because [female athletes have] challenged assumptions and broken barriers, and I love being one of them.”

@dianapearl_ Diana is the brand marketing editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.