-Martha Engel, Attorney

The Super Bowl ads this year were much like the game itself – maybe one remarkable catch, a few fumbles, and heavy on defense.  Some even deserved a penalty flag – like the one for toe fungus and the revolting puppy-monkey-baby (and I’m an avid Diet Mountain Dew drinker).  However, there were some subtle shifts.

Although female viewership of the Big Game is getting close to being 50%, many (if not most) of the ads were directed to male consumption.  Of those, beer and cars generally dominate the Super Bowl ad scene.  My family keeps a pretty detailed scorecard of the ads, and by my count (not including ads for upcoming films or local spots), 23% of the ads were directed towards cars and 8.5% to beer.

Since this was Super Bowl 50, I’ll first hearken back to the 1990s to two of my all-time favorite Super Bowl commercials.  I might be biased with a special connection to these two ads, but they are worth a quick review.



Both of these ads utilized the expensive Super Bowl air time to reach a new audience, and also pinpointed their most powerful purchasing audience – women.

Although I would argue that, overall, the Super Bowl ads of the 90s were more creative than those that we’ve seen through most of this century (is any one else tired of watching animals acting like humans?), some of the ads this year exhibited similar a similar approach to capitalizing on the exposure of the Super Bowl.

With respect to cars, we saw two ads this year smartly use self-deprecating humor and even negative perceptions of their brand to re-position themselves to a new audience.  Although my favorite ad of Super Bowl L was the Audi “Commander” ad with the new R8, car commercials are generally boring.  They typically focus on some nifty feature (like speakers in a truck bed or voice activated start) or a rugged history if you’re Jeep.  However we saw a significant shift in strategy with respect to two brands.  Prius took many of the negative comments about their vehicles and turned them on their heads in a way that, if you weren’t paying too much attention (or were already a member of the smug club), you may have missed it.   Part of me wonders if the “zip” that they tried to emphasize didn’t borderline on a false advertising claim.  The other was Mini with their “Defy Labels” ad featuring Serena Williams, Tony Hawk, and Abby Wambach talking trash (including some pejorative terms) about the vehicle with the closing line “this car doesn’t care what you call it.”  The Super Bowl also had a quite fetching Ryanville ad for Hyundai, but I’ll still take the Audi R8 over one of those.

The beer ads predominately featured strong females – including a Michelob Ultra ad with female rock climbers, Amy Schumer taking a lead role in Bud Light campaign, and Helen Mirren.  This is a clear shift from how women were previously portrayed in beer ads.  As a recent New York Times article on advertising for the beer industry pointed out, the industry recognized that their ads weren’t speaking to women.  The most surprising statistic to me from that article was that 30% of craft beer drinkers are women, but only 25% of beer drinkers overall are women.  Craft beers tend to be heavier and have a higher alcohol content than your Budweiser or Coors Light, so I was surprised that women had a much larger share of the craft beer drinking population than the overall beer drinking population.  As a result, you may begin seeing more ads divert from eye candy in favor of “empowered” female consumers, as the New York Times article put it.

How are you trying to reach a new audience in your own work?