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The Influencers

Over Sex in the Super Bowl

Are we seeing less sexulisation in Super Bowl ads? And why? Sandy Thompson, Global Strategic Planning Director at Y&R ponders

Over Sex in the Super Bowl

When I first started in the advertising industry I was hired to work on a beer brand. My first day on the job I was told by the account lead that there was only one thing I needed to know about beer advertising. “Make sure there is lots of Tits and Ass” (there after referred to as T&A), because that is what beer drinking men like to see. That’s what sells beer.”

As a result, I spent the first five years of my advertising career producing advertising with women wearing smaller and smaller tops and shorter and shorter shorts. 

So the question is, when we see ads airing on the Super Bowl, presumably one of the nation’s biggest beer drinking days of the year, why are we seeing less and less sex and more puppies and adorable kids grabbing our attention?

Over the years there have been some pretty ‘hot’ ads aired at the Super Bowl. 
This year is the 25th anniversary of Cindy Crawford’s Pepsi ad, which is rated one of the top six hottest ads of the big event. I personally love Hyundai’s Ryanville. Celebrities obviously up the ante, as have been demonstrated by Carl’s Jr. using Kate Upton, or Kim Kardashian for Skechers.  

But according to YouTube, the top three ads aired at the Super Bowl are Budweiser’s Puppy Love, the video game Clash of the Clans, and of course, VW’s young Darth Vader. 

Which leads me to ask, has the age of ‘sex sells’ finally ended? 

I presume that one of the reasons we're seeing less sex is that women are increasingly watching the Super Bowl at the same rates as men. They're also the biggest purchasers in households and they don't have much interest in seeing themselves objectified. Now some may say that all this is causing brands to rethink the way they portray women – and so it should – but I believe there may be another underlying reason. 

Sex in advertising just isn’t that interesting anymore. 

Think about how much sex is readily available to us these days with just a push of a button. Available to us to when we want it, how we want it, for as long or short as we want it. Are we, as a nation, now oversexed, leaving many less interested in 30 seconds of sexiness?

Scott Flanders, CEO of Playboy, was recently quoted as saying, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

Pornography is now mainstream, not something you hide under your mattress. Today you don’t have to sneak to the store for a magazine or cleverly steal one from your dad’s stash (not that my dad had a stash!).  

There are more porn sites up and running for free in the US than we could ever have imagined. You can even experience virtual sex using the Camsoda gas mask complete with every scent imaginable. 

So I don’t think a bit of T&A is going to cut it these days, although it seems to help short term if you throw a celebrity into the mix. But to make a sustainable connection with our football fans in today’s world you need to engage with them quickly in that 30 seconds of exposure on the biggest sports day of the year. To do that, you need to give them something they have never seen before. Lets face it; sex just isn’t that interesting in 30-second increments between grabbing a beer and high fiving your friends.


Sandy Thompson is the Global Strategic Planning Director at Young & Rubicam
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