Sex and Sexism Sell on Super Bowl Sunday

What is it about Super Bowl Sunday that brings out the worst in advertisers?
Admittedly, I did not watch the game through and through but I did tune in for the commercials and I have to say that although I wasn’t surprised, I’ve about had it with the sexist and stereotypical undertones that advertisers so happily use to get the loudest laughs.

Let’s take a look at this year’s most offensive commercials.

Doritos – Lucky Day

This Doritos ad takes undressing a woman with your eyes to a whole new level. In the commercial, a woman walking down the street has her clothes literally ripped off her body by the force of a man snacking on a bag of Doritos. I realize the act was unintentional, but was it really necessary to strip a woman of her clothes to “prove” that Doritos are crunchy? They’re chips–we know they’re crunchy. And really, how many women do you know who would look like that if their clothes were magically ripped off while walking down the street? I thought so. The guys may get a kick out of watching this one, but women are left feeling unattractive and inadequate (if not offended!).

Teleflora – Talking Flowers

After watching this commercial I will be sure to steer clear from Teleflora if I ever want to send someone flowers–and you should too! In the commercial a woman at work receives a box of flowers that, when opened, begins to verbally attack her starting with “Oh no, look at the mug on you” and ending with the final blow of, “No one wants to see you naked.”

Let me see if I got this straight:

  1. Only a woman that is attractive can land a man.
  2. If said attractive woman lands a man he should send flowers. 
  3. If said man sends flowers to said attractive woman in a box it means she’s really not attractive and she should resort to her romance novels and “fat, smelly cat” for companionship and love.

Nice. So the quality of gifts a woman receives is directly correlated to her level of attractiveness and it’s perfectly acceptable to judge, mock, and humiliate a woman based on her looks.

Go Daddy – Enhanced

If the Teleflora ad wasn’t offensive enough then this Go Daddy ad does the job. In the commercial Sarah Brestlin covers the breaking news of an “enhancement hearing” where women are on trial for allegedly enhancing their breasts–or so it suggests. By the end of the commercial all the women have ripped open their shirts to reveal ample cleavage and, of course, the Go Daddy logo, to a courtroom that fills with applause and a standing ovation. In doing so, the commercial suggests that enhancing your image means enhancing your breasts and, oh yeah, visiting GO Daddy for a domain name or website. This comparison is a stretch and indicative that the only reason the scantily clad women are there is to appeal to the predominantly male audience watching the game.

What was most infuriating for me was that the women willingly objectify themselves (ripping opening their shirts ala a primetime Girls Gone Wild) and in doing so are met with such praise (rousing applause). Again, the take away for women is that they’re not good enough, but they can be if they follow certain rules (boob job, clothes, make-up etc).

Go Daddy – Danica Shower

Sexism couldn’t be more crystal clear than in Go Daddy’s second Super Bowl ad “Danica Shower.” In the commercial a young man is able to lure women into a shower, one with a webcam of course, by using the power of the internet supplied by Go Daddy. This is called voyeurism and it’s a crime, but in the commercial it’s suppose to represent a man’s ideal world, one in which, with the click of a button, he can call on any woman for his own enjoyment.

In discussing sexism in Super Bowl ads, Kate Harding of Salon couldn’t have said it any better:

“It’s so freakin’ routine that women are treated as objects for the sexual pleasure of men, we’re actually expected to laugh at the concept of a woman being stripped (and/or taken to an unknown location) against her will, because she’s completely under the control of a man who wants a better view of her boobies…These things are known as “sexual assault” and “kidnapping” when men do them in the real world, but if they’re accomplished on TV by the power of a corn chip or a Web host or a six-pack, they’re just high-larious riffs on what a Martian anthropologist would have to note as an apparently common American male fantasy. Of … sexual assault and kidnapping. With no accountability.”

And what Kate doesn’t touch on is that these commercials also (and a whole lot of other ones out there too) give women an impossible standard to measure themselves up against, hammering home the message that we just aren’t good enough (not skinny enough, pretty enough, sexy enough) as we are.

At least this year Sports Illustrated and Playboy, companies that only profit by objectifying women and their bodies, had to cancel their yearly Super Bowl party due to the crumbling economy. However, the fact that parties dripping with playmates and swimsuit models are a staple of each year’s game speaks miles about this great American pastime (insert sarcasm here).

I know the tradition of the Super Bowl isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the cultural phenomenon of advertisers competing to produce the funniest or cleverest ads. But what does need to go is the notion that sexism is an acceptable means to sell anything and that it’s the fastest, surest way to get the biggest laugh out loud moments.

It’s not funny and America should stop laughing.

Photo by Mike Licht used under a Creative Commons license.


Jenni Sager
Jenni S7 years ago

I'm a 23 year old woman living in Toronto who would like to shed light on an advertisement currently running in the TTC subways for Bic razors.

This poster depicts a 1950s pinup style cartoon of long-legged woman bending over in the grocery store, her mini skirt riding higher in the back, with a confident smile thrown in the direction of the viewer. "For legs that beckon." is the slogan written across the bottom.


Ashley M.
Ashley M9 years ago

Paul -- thank you for existing. Men like you are so rare, especially at your age (by your descriptions of the comments made to you by other men, it sounds very much like you are in college). Please, put those other guys in their place! I mean, having sexual desires for women is fine, but treating us as though that is the only thing we are good for is awful, and it is far too common. Most young men are too afraid to step up and be themselves, so they choose to macho up and perpetuate the stereotypes out of fear of rejection from other men - a vicious cycle.

Robyn -- You are so right! Women having sexuality is not a bad thing! I have met so many feminists in my life that confuse women as sexual beings with women as sexual objects. There is a subtle yet very important distinction! When a woman exhibits sexiness it is not necessarily a sign of subordination. A woman taking control over her own sexuality is empowering.

However, I disagree with the whole "sex sells" thing. I mean, it is undeniable that it is effective, but it just seems so low. I mean, if the product is marketable and useful then it should sell itself, right? Or at least it could be advertised based on its qualities and not on mind games targeted toward straight men (who should really be insulted at the insinuation that they are so primitive and simple that they can be tricked into buying a product just because the woman selling it is attractive).

Jim Robertson
Jim Robertson9 years ago

Both the Go Daddy adds and the Doritos adds are created and produced by WOMEN

Jim Robertson
Jim Robertson9 years ago

the Go Daddy add and the Doritos add are both created and produced by WOMEN

Silvia W.
Silvia W9 years ago

Who makes up these commercials, anyway? They are like something the boys in "Animal House" would create if they ran an advertizing agency. It's all part-and-parcel of the "dumbing down" of America. Perhaps we should say John Belushi was a prophet?

Aubrey J.
Aubrey J9 years ago

Great post, thank you.

Arturo, your argument is nothing but an excuse for something which is inexcusable, and entirely innacurate.

Robyn E.
Robyn E9 years ago

To add to the pot... I just ran across this post on sexism in commercials: Accurate portrayals of uncontrollable animal instincts that only need time to settle down - or carefully calculated manipulation of public perceptions of gender roles for financial gain (on the part of companies like GoodYear Tire, etc.)?

Arturo Varela
jorge o ramirez9 years ago

Man has very predictable hormones. Their work is to place him always in search of perpetuating the species. Because of that he reacts funny to the grace and harmony of a woman body. What is wrong with that though? Or rather what’s wrong if a man wants to exercise his instinct?, especially when he is at the pinnacle of his life. Just give him some time please. Eventually his instinct will run out and you will get the man you want.

Alex Evans
Alex Evans9 years ago

As a feminist I am worried about images of sexual assault, subordination and rape being trivialized by the media and like many people on this msg board I am upset at the suggestion that attractive women are those who enjoy being preyed upon, those who hide their intelligence, those who allow men to take control. But I think there is a bit of confusion about what objectification is exactly; I don't see what is wrong with sexy women advertising things. Straight men will always want to look at sexy women. The most damaging steriotype that needs to be addressed is the one that claims that physically attractive women are vacuous. When women start to respect one another without jealousy and without feeling threatened by the charms of other women we will achieve more equality. When intelligent women slam other women for looking good we inintentionaly teach men that there is a contradiction between being sexy and having brains, consequently men feel they have to make a guilty choice: physical attributes over personality in order to satisfy their natural urges. This is unhealthy and warped. Some women are good looking and have fantastic personalities. It is those images that endorse male sexual domination which need to go, not necessarily images of women looking sexy; the two things are not necessarily the same. Women can be sexy and sexually and intellectually assertive, and us women should respect and celebrate those qualities in one another. That would be real change.

Tierney G.
Tierney G9 years ago

There needs to be women in the media running things in order for change to occur. It is sad that the media still thinks that awomens worthis her appearrance. At least the PETA commercial was canned. Even though I am an animal activist I did nt approve of PETA exploiting the female species to save animal species!