Gen Z Watches Super Bowl Ads

February 15, 2018

Mina Enayati-Uzeta

Mina Enayati-Uzeta is a Gen Z writer, journalist, and designer. She is passionate about social justice, equality, and equity. This year, she's experimenting with an independent study year that merges design, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and is taking her to Senegal, Ethiopia, Japan, Israel, and Thailand.

Full disclosure: I'm 13, don't watch the Super Bowl, and didn't even have a Twitter account before the big game. But when I heard about the 3% Super Bowl Tweetup my first reaction was, "Where do I sign up?!" Commercials, feminism, and nachos. What's not to love?

Having never seen more than a few minutes of the Super Bowl before, I didn't really know what to expect in terms of ads. Honestly? I was pretty hopeful, thinking that there might be a few more male leads than female (otherwise, why would we be here?), but nothing too bad. 

Oh, how wrong I was.

Instead, I saw ad after ad featuring the same cast of white dudes. Ad after ad, either throwing in a woman as an afterthought or just… not at all. 

And even in some that did include women, there were plenty of sexist undertones to go around (I'm looking at you, Credit Sesame). 

Don't get me wrong: some companies were definitely doing things right. Coca-Cola not only showed more women than any of other ads put together but also made a point of recognizing non-binary pronouns. 

Toyota and the Olympics teamed up to feature Lauren Woolstencroft, a disabled athlete, to make their inspirational ad.

Groupon featured the ever-hilarious Tiffany Haddish in a fun and snarky segment, and the NFL stretched the boundaries of masculinity with their dancing football players. 

But the sexist, exclusionary ads far outnumbered their great counterparts. I learned that apparently women cannot be Vikings, supermodels exist for the footballer's pleasure, and that when we get a female-sounding robot, we can't complain (or else they'll replace it with a man robot next year!). 

And who can forget the Lady Doritos, and the Pringles ad, featuring three chip flavors and three white men?     

Seriously, people, it's not that hard to include people from different backgrounds and genders! In fact, I feel like it probably takes more energy to only include white men than to do the opposite. But if you're really stuck, here are some pointers to get you headed in the right direction for next year: 

  1. Bring on different perspectives! It's hard to be a bunch of different people at once, isn't it? You only have your own experiences and perspectives. You're making these ads to help connect with people, right? Bringing in a diversity of perspectives—for directors, actors, writers, and creators -- helps the connection you're looking to make in your commercial.
  2. Write the script with everyone in mind. Make sure that you're not only writing roles for white men. For example: don't make jokes that can only be said by a man, and definitely, don't make jokes about women. 
  3. Switch up the roles. If you forget Step 2 or already finished your script, or whatever, mix things up. Substitute a woman for a role you saw as a man, or a person of color for someone you thought was white. It doesn't matter if that's not how you imagined them in your head - it'll actually ensure that you don't play to stereotypes.
  4. Figure out the stereotypes—and maybe smash them. One way to avoid stereotypes is by following Step 3, but you can also do it purposefully (I know, crazy concept, right??). Identify what everyone thinks is supposed to happen... and do the opposite! 
  5. Step out of your comfort zone. Disrupting the norm can be uncomfortable and, yes, slightly scary—what if people don't like it? But both you and I know that playing things safe has never led to great art. And great ads are great art.  

Why do we care about this so much? 

As one of the most diverse generations ever (more than 50% of Gen Z identifies as mixed race or as part of an ethnic group), we want to see ourselves represented! Representation matters. It's really no fun if you're watching commercial after commercial featuring people who look or feel nothing like you. And how else will your audiences connect with you?