This Super Bowl, we learned a few things: Bruno Mars has a twin brother/two-bit doppelganger who plays drums in his band. Wearing Axe body spray will create world peace. And Morpheus will pretend he respects Kia for some amount of money.
Let’s talk about Bruno Mars for a second. I was pretty unexcited about the prospect of Bruno Mars at the Super Bowl, since I thought we agreed the Super Bowl can now only book people better than Beyoncé. Those people include only Beyoncé. But I was pleasantly surprised! He did alright! He’s kinda catchy!
On to the commercials, though. There were fewer overtly sexist commercials than last year’s Super Bowl douchebaggery. But there also weren’t that many commercials that featured women at all. There were almost more commercials featuring leading bears than women. We should be asking why it’s so unfathomable that a woman could be funny or awesome enough to sell products. This isn’t just about looking for equal representation; it’s about the troubling idea that women just aren’t selling what we’re buying. Except sex, obviously.
So, with no further ado, here are my top picks for most terrible Super Bowl commercials of 2014.
1. Jimmy John’s "Anniversary": In the second quarter, we saw a commercial where a man arrives home with Valentine’s Day presents, only to find his wife doing laundry and not expecting his gifts. She orders Jimmy John’s; he’s delighted. I would expect nothing less from a CEO who shoots adorable animals for fun.
I think maybe this commercial was trying to be intentionally sexist as a campy joke—but even if it is intentional, the commercial just ends up being boring. If I wanted to watch a woman doing half-hearted laundry and ordering food for delivery, I would take a video of myself on Sunday afternoons. If you want to make an ad for Jimmy John’s, why not show the reality: a single 20-something paying $2 extra for delivery because leaving the house is akin to chopping off their own leg.
2. Volkwagen "Wings": At the end of the second quarter—after an inspiring third touchdown from Seattle—we learn that VW engineers get their wings when a VW vehicle reaches 100,000 miles. By “engineers,” of course we mean “men.” All of the engineers who get their wings in this commercial are men. There is one woman who seems to be an engineer. She's seen in an elevator, but she’s just there to slap an engineer when his wings touch her butt. Women, right? Always mistaking male-only progress for sexism.
3. Masterati "Strike": Okay, this commercial isn’t really sexist, I just want to complain. I understand that commercials are intended to sell a product. But it bothers me when that product is built up to be some kind of grand progress. It’s a car, not a revolution. In this ad, images of Quvenzhane Wallis are cut over beautiful shots of sky and sea. “The world is full of giants,” says Wallis’ voiceover. “We had to learn how to deal with them, how to overcome them.” I assume this is going to be an ad about some actually important issue. The voiceover continues, telling us that “we”—I presume, women and underdogs—are ready to strike. “I am ready!” I think. “What are we doing? Fixing this messed-up world? Taking a hold of our fears? Applying to grad school?” Oh, no, it’s a car commercial. We are doomed.
In the same vein, the Axe commercial promoting world peace had me rolling my eyes. Spraying yourself with Axe is not a bold, anti-authoritarian act. It’s smelly body spray. We all know it’s smelly body spray. Don’t try and pretend it’s a special set of chemicals that is going to change the world.
4. SodaStream's "Sorry Coke and Pepsi": First, a PSA for everyone: You can’t SodaStream wine. I know you’ll read this and think, “Shit, I should try that!” You’re wrong, though. Shit is bad.
Second, the commercial. The original version of this ad was banned: it ended with Scarlett Johansson saying, “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.” FOX worried that its big-name advertisers would react badly, so the aired commercial is much the same, without that line. The original is online as the "uncensored" version and has nearly 10 million views now because people probably think "uncensored" means there is going to be nudity. Canny move, SodaStream.
In this ad, ScarJo starts out wearing a lab coat and saying, “Like most doctors my real job is trying to save the world.” She offers some straightforward information about Sodastream—“less sugar and less bottles” than regular soda—but then laments that the ad won’t go viral. So to boost its popularity, she strips off the lab coat and begins sexily drinking the beverage while making doe-eyes at the screen. She realizes her sex appeal is much more likely to go viral than just a fact-based message.
The saddest thing to me here is that she’s right. Still, I’m not sure SodaStream’s commercial is a biting commentary at this point in the game—we’re all drunk. Either way, I’d love to see a commercial that featured a woman lead without so much self-conscious commentary about how weird it was to have a woman selling a product without having to do a sexy dance.
5. Doritos “Cowboy Kid”: This commercial involves a mom asking her boys if she can get some help with the groceries. “I don’t know, can you?” asks her evil son. “You’ll do it if you want Doritos,” she says, revealing a bag of Doritos in the backseat that the boys then battle over. New tagline: Doritos—For When Your Kids Are Assholes.
What were your least favorite commercials? Add whatever I missed to the comments.
Related Reading: Thoughts on the Cheerio's commercial featuring an interracial family.