Super Bowl XLVIII’s Manliest Ads

When stock image website iStock proclaimed that 2014 will be the year of the “hands-on dad” in advertising, I wrote that “…the cynic in me wants to question these predictions…” yet I maintained hope that their prediction would come true. Now that the SuperBowl, which simultaneously marks the end of American Football season and the beginning of the advertising new year, has come and gone, it appears that the folks at iStock just about hit the nail on the head.

Many of this year’s “manliest” ads (and in this case, “manliest” simply means ads that are clearly targeting men) featured hands-on dads, just as iStock predicted. But advertisers didn’t just give us more dads, they also gave us a bit more sensitivity than we’ve seen from ad men in the past. It’s a welcome change after the past few years of advertisers constantly hit us over the head with their uber-masculine sales pitches. Last year’s SuperBowl ads, for example, gave us dads who’d rather play football with their friends than spend time with their daughters, nerdy stereotypes making out with supermodels and worst of all, rebellious rich kids sexually assaulting prom queens.

Before this turns into an unmitigated love fest, let me be clear on something; there were still a number of problematic masculine depictions and other issues to be found in this year’s ads. I’m not giving anyone a free pass here. Diversity remains a major issue in SuperBowl ads (okay, all ads) and based on the commercials I saw, women apparently don’t drive. Not a single car commercial featured a driver that wasn’t a white male. In fact, the only commercial in which a woman was seen driving was a beer ad. Very odd… Even the ads featuring caring dads and less dickish men still manged to sneak in plenty of stereotypical male behavior.

Here now are a few of the SuperBowl XLVIII ads that stood out to me for various depictions of masculine behavior:

Volkswagen: “Wings”

In this seemingly cute commercial, the folks at Volkswagen manage to fit in a sexual harassment joke, a penis size joke and even a little bit of violence. Look, I get the concept… grown men sprouting wings may sound like fun, but in reality would just cause mayhem. Sounds innocent enough right? It’s the execution however that really, shall we say, ruffled my feathers.

First off, is the VW engineering department really that much of a lily-white sausage fest? If so, they need to examine their hiring practices. Well, there was that one woman engineer in the elevator who for some reason didn’t get wings like her male counterparts. Hey, wait a second… is that some sort of glass ceiling joke? Speaking of which, I can only imaging how much sexual harassment she experiences on the daily if her first instinct is to slap a fool that accidentally touches her. Whoever wrote the ad is apparently a big fan of fairy tales because a woman who freaks out and “overreacts” to the slightest touch or off-color remark, is as much a fairy tale as Vagina Dentata.

Finally, that implied penis-size joke. Was there really some added value to the inclusion of body shaming in your already unfunny commercial VW? That was so not cute or funny.

Overall the issues in this ad are mild in comparison to past SuperBowl ads, but VW is far from off the hook.

2015 Hyundai Genesis: “Dad’s Sixth Sense”

Here’s another commercial that starts out cute, but manages to take a painfully retrograde detour in the end. In this spot we see the epitome of the hands-on dad that iStock promised us; a caring and present father saving his son from all sorts of painful accidents. Dad saves his baby boy from bashing his head on bricks, getting kicked, crashing into a hot grill, falling into a lake, etc.. It seems no matter what the danger, dad is there. Finally we see dad teaching his now teenage son how to drive when the biggest painful accident of them all approaches.

Of course, because he’s male the teenage son has no control over his neck, eyeballs, hormones, or penis. As a result, he never sees the car he’s about to hit because he’s too busy drooling over the girl next door. Dad, normally attentive, isn’t on his game this time. There he sits, zoned out in the passenger seat for some unknown reason (but thankfully not rubbernecking the teen girl walking by like his son is) failing in his fatherly duties. Luckily Hyundai is there with an accident avoidance system that steps up and saves the day. Meanwhile the announcer asks: “remember when only dad could save the day?” Wait, what? They might as well have ended what started off as a great commercial by yelling “bros before hoes!” followed by an exploding fist bump and a fade to black…

I know, I know. It’s not as bad as this Axe ad but still… I’m FED UP with advertisers (and others) implying that boys and men have no control over their bodies or behavior around women. It may just be a look, sure he doesn’t say anything to her, but the implication is the same; it’s normal for guys to stare at women and/or do stupid things/say stupid things/etc.  Some recent surveys have informed us that in the real world, as many as 88% of women have experienced street harassment, so it’s hard to argue that ads like this don’t contribute to the normalization of such behavior.

Chevy: “Romance”

This one is pretty straight forward. I mean really, does it get any more hyper-masculine than this? It’s like they decided to film every country and western song stereotype; A lonely cowboy and his big ass truck driving at dawn. Livestock. Diners. In this context the visit to the cow farm orgy, seems more like a metaphor for the male libido than an act of animal husbandry. So this is Chevy’s idea of romance huh?

David Beckham for H&M – Director’s Cut

At this point in his career, David Beckham seems to be known more for his body than his World Football skills. But what interests me about the ads where David Beckham is showing off his body is the responses they illicit from straight males. You can guarantee that some guy is going to make a comment like “if this ad featured Kate Upton it’d be considered sexist” (which I saw on the ad’s YouTube page before they turned off commenting). I’d like to direct that commenter and any who think like him to this simple response:

GoDaddy – Bodybuilder

There’s something really strange going on in this commercial, and it’s not the running of the bodybuilders: First; why are there only male bodbuilders? And second; why does one female bodybuilder show up –with Danica Patrick’s face– then suddenly disappear seconds later?

I’m so confused… Can anyone answer those questions for me?

Cheerios 2014 Game Day Ad | “Gracie”

Last but not least, my favorite commercial of the night. Why was it my favorite? Because it was a big middle finger to all of the racists who complained about the first ad in the series. In case you missed it, when Cheerios released an ad featuring this same family last year, the internet blew up with racist furor over the depiction of a happy interracial couple and their bi-racial child. Cheerios to their credit stood pat and refused to pull the ad. But I was sure we’d never see this family in another Cheerios commercial again. Boy was I wrong!

I also love these ads because they’re one of the few to feature a black father who is present, loving, nurturing and all the good things we want fathers to be. As I said the night of the SuperBowl:



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