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        Faculty, Marketing

        Super Bowl LIV ads: Women, corporate social responsibility and politics

        February 3, 2020

        All News


        Super Bowl ads analyzed

        This year’s Super Bowl ad rates for a 30 second spot reached a record $5.6 million versus up to $5.3 million last year. You can tell the economy is booming because these premium priced ad slots sold out before Thanksgiving whereas last year, the ads were still being sold right up to game time.

        Those are the raw numbers, but what about the ads themselves? How did the focus and target audiences of this year’s crop compare to last year’s ads and how do they track over time?

        lindaocDr. Linda Ferrell (left), Marketing Department Chair at the Harbert College of Business, and Dr. O.C. Ferrell (right), James T. Pursell Jr. Eminent Scholar in Ethics at Harbert, conducted an analysis of this year’s ads compared to last year’s, and the results show some interesting trends regarding the representation of women, corporate social responsibility and the emergence of politics.


        With just under half of Super Bowl viewership (45%) estimated to be women, you would think that ads featuring women would be significant. Women are more in tune with the ads and halftime show than men, according to Brad Agate’s article in Forbes “What You Should Know About Super Bowl LIV Advertising and Broadcast.” Yet, ads featuring women represented just over a quarter of Super Bowl ads aired in recent years, and our count of ads featuring women this year came in even lower – just 16%, if you take out movie and television promotions.

        women adAnd not all these fared well, and given the controversy associated with Secret’s pregame ad, the analysis here is a bit tricky. Secret’s ad showed a placekicker winning a football game, and when the players take their helmets off, it is revealed that two of them are women soccer stars Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn. At first the fans are shocked, and then the crowd explodes with support. Although the spot was intended to promote gender equality, it received considerable blowback on social media and beyond.

        Our takeaway: marketers would do well to remember that women are more engaged in ad viewership while watching the Super Bowl than men. It sounds stereotypical, but consumer surveys show that 47% of males state the game is the most important part of this annual event, whereas only 19% of females agree. Advertisers should consider these facts when crafting their appeals next year.

        Corporate Social Responsibility

        Last year’s Super Bowl defied conventional wisdom with five of the top 10 USA Today Admeter ads relating to corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues. This year, three of the top ten ads touted CSR issues, with seven out of the top 20 focused on CSR – responsibilities to communities, sustainability and other social issues.

        googleCSR ads promote initiatives that integrate a company’s business strategy and activities with human welfare, and these kinds of ads impact viewers differently – they don’t make you laugh or catch your eye with star power. Yet, the fact that over one third of the top 20-rated ads this year dealt with CSR issues means they are resonating with consumers.

        Our takeaway: In competition for viewer’s attention, marketers should consider the relatively greater impact CSR-focused appeals have on capturing viewer engagement and building brand equity.


        Super Bowl ads ranking in the bottom five of the Admeter included the political ads for President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. The Trump ad featured Alice Johnson thanking the President for freeing her from prison and focused on President Trump’s role in passing criminal justice reform legislation. Michael Bloomberg’s ad spotlighted a mother who lost her son to gun violence and promotes his record on gun safety.

        Given the relatively low rankings for these ads, were they failures? We think not. Super Bowl 2020 will likely be the most watched television show in 2020, with a viewership of nearly 200 million. It’s increasingly hard to reach the mass market given the fragmentation of media choices and changes in how people choose to consume entertainment – i.e. streaming, subscription, broadcast and cable. We would categorize these ads as successful in the today’s advertising world where reaching consumers is increasingly difficult.

        Our takeaway: With the primary and general election seasons already upon us, advertising on TV and across increasingly important social media channels is expected to play a much greater role than ever before. President Trump’s war chest is considerable, while candidate Bloomberg is willing to spend orders of magnitude more. Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride.