Can Super Bowl Ads Evolve?
BY Michelle Garcia
February 04 2011 1:10 PM ET
It may be a mixed bag because of where we are as a society. When it comes to gay rights, America has a patchwork of accomplishments: some states have legalized same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships, or civil unions, while others attempt to prevent any recognition of gay couples. The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is a major victory, but civilian LGBT workers in many states can still lose their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And as some states — and the federal government — attempt to enact laws to keep gay youths safe in schools, the messages young people see in the media may be what influence them the most.
"Several television shows not only feature LGBT characters, but also feature images that reflect the rich diversity of our community, including representations of gay men who fall on what is traditionally considered the more 'masculine' end of the gender spectrum," says Barrios. "From the CW’s 90210 to Calvin, the young African-American gay frat brother on ABC Family’s Greek, the entertainment industry is presenting images that break the mold and help Americans understand that LGBT people are just like them. Advertisers are falling well below that curve and missing an opportunity to demonstrate their support for full equality and fully engage LGBT consumers."
But still, those influences are mainly missing when the Super Bowl comes around. If anything, says Stony Brook University sociology professor Michael Kimmel, advertisers right now are targeting the downtrodden, down-on-his-luck, white American male. In commercials like last year's Dodge Charger ad, an announcer lists the day-to-day sacrifices he makes (carrying his wife or girlfriend's lip balm, listening to her friends talk about why they don't like his friends, and taking out the recycling), all of which compromise his masculinity, therefore allowing him to choose the car he drives.
"What's interesting about this ad is the assumption that they're married," Kimmel says. "Is carrying her lip balm so humiliating? Is that the worst we can feel?"
As gay people have become more accepted in mainstream society thanks to new laws, changing attitudes, and a more perceptive group of media professionals, advertising is still catching up. As Barrios points out, some of the top television shows, including Glee, Modern Family, and True Blood, feature gay characters who add dimension to the shows, without compromising ratings or critical acclaim. Meanwhile, in between plays, a Super Bowl viewer will see a Snickers ad where the punch line is two men being completely grossed out because they accidentally kissed, or another Dodge commercial where a butch guy calls a male pixie a “silly little fairy.” Tinker Bell retaliates by turning him into a sweater-clad metrosexual.
Wilke says, "I think the everyday straight male image is constantly evolving. We're in a place where advertising tries to reflect society, though it's much slower than TV and film than being anything close to reality — not that advertising tries to be real. In regards to showing greater diversity in types of character, we're starting to see more sensitive guys, even while still seeing the classic macho guy."