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Thanks, Carl's Jr., for Making It Easy to Talk About Super Bowl Sexism
The first commercial fail of the Super Bowl is in, and the winner is Carl's Jr. The burger chain's attention-grabbing, super sexy "Au Naturel" ad is tasteless, sure, but it's also out of step with what Super Bowl viewers really want. Good news for families: Extreme examples like this make it a lot easier to illustrate the importance of quality media and challenge the messages that reinforce tired, outdated stereotypes.
NBC says 2015 is the biggest Super Bowl yet -- and, as always, ads are clearly a big part of the game day fun. Whether audiences have grown more sophisticated, advertisers are realizing that insulting half their viewers isn't a good marketing strategy, or the network is finally recognizing that the Super Bowl is a family event, this year's ads are more family-friendly than ever before. And that just makes Carl's Jr.'s commercial stand out -- in a bad way.
Let's back up. If you haven't caught the Internet chatter, the spot features scantily clad model Charlotte McKinney playing peekaboo with the camera and sexily eating a cheeseburger. But, perhaps inspired by the top ad of Super Bowl 2014 -- Microsoft's "Empowering" commercial -- or studies showing viewers prefer ads without sex, the balance of this year's lineup looks heartening. Toyota's "How Great I Am" commercial features Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy. Dove is busting male stereotypes with an ad celebrating the "soft" side of dads. And there will be completely middle-of-the-road insurance and tech ads.
No, the Super Bowl isn't completely off the hook for sexism and other age-inappropriate fare. Victoria's Secret, Kim Kardashian's T-Mobile spot, Budweiser's promotion of alcohol, and Katy Perry's anticipated anything-goes half-time show will take care of that. And many advertisers are releasing racy teasers online, only to follow up with tamer ads for the TV broadcast. You can also factor in some sexual-enhancement commercials. Guaranteed there will be lots to talk about -- either on game day or whenever the spirit moves you to talk to your kids about media messages and encourage them to view media critically. Here are some ideas for starting those conversations.
Mute the commercials -- and explain why. A lot of times we let inappropriate commercials intrude on our family time. Grab the remote and tell your kids why you want to mute some of the messages that come into your home.
Talk about the ads. Ask your kids why they think marketers go all out on Super Bowl Sunday. Ask which ads they like, and why. Share the ones you like, and explain why. Which ones are memorable?
Ask what ads are really selling. Super Bowl ads can be very creative -- and cagey -- with messaging. Ask your kids if they can identify what is actually being sold in a spot.
Discuss the fact that sex doesn't actually sell. It turns out that Super Bowl audiences don't like sexually charged ads and rate them lower than sex-free ads. Ask your kids why companies persist in using sex to sell products and whether their ads appeal.
Talk about advertisers' online marketing strategies. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz have a series of online-only videos to tease its main Super Bowl Sunday commercial. Ask your kids about the different audiences the ads are designed for.
Point out product placement in the broadcast. Official sponsors will have their logos emblazoned on every available surface. Train your kids to identify advertising that displays in the stadium, on the half-time stage, and even on the host's beverage cup.
Talk back to Super Bowl sponsors. Use the hashtag #notbuying it (developed by the Representation Project) to call out offensive advertising.