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Super Bowl advertising fails to reflect diversity of audience, study shows

Super Bowl television commercials, and the advertising agencies producing them, remain out of step with the diversity of the audience for the nation’s most popular sporting event, according to a study released Wednesday at the University of Central Florida.

White men continue to dominate advertising agencies, and the lack of women and persons of color as creative directors in Madison Avenue agencies is reflected in the commercials that aired during Super Bowl XLV, according to the study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

In addition to the continuing use of gratuitous sexual content, this year’s ads managed to depict some women in an antagonistic manner featuring a number of ads portraying men attempting to appease their overbearing girlfriends, TIDES reported. There was also a lack of people of color featured as main characters in the advertisements. Of the 66 ads, only eight featured a person of color in the lead role.

According to Nielsen demographic data, there were 12.5 million African-American viewers and 10 million Latino viewers of the 2011 Super Bowl, up from 11.2 million and 8.3 million, respectively, in 2010. Also, there were 51.2 million female viewers, up from 48.5 million female viewers in 2010.

Meanwhile, TIDES found that only four Super Bowl ads had a person of color as creative director. That was an improvement from zero in 2010. The gender breakdown of creative directors remained the same from last year at 94 percent male, 6 percent female.

“This year’s Super Bowl study continues to underline that there is so much room for improvement in the hiring of women and people of color as creative directors in Madison Avenue agencies,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of TIDES and principal author of the study. “It is heartening to see that there has been an increase in the number of people of color who are creative directors in this year’s Super Bowl ads. However, there was no change in the number of women who are creative directors.

“These ads also show that having a woman or a person of color as the creative director does not guarantee that the content will be free of stereotypes and negative images. Nonetheless, the record shows that it is likely to be an improvement in the content in both racial and gender images if there is a woman or person of color in charge.”

The study flagged the five most offensive ads: Groupon’s “Tibet,” Teleflora’s “Faith Hill,” Sketchers’ “Kim Kardashian,” GoDaddy’s “Danica Patrick” and Pepsi’s “Can Thrower.” Following criticism of its Super Bowl ads, Groupon severed ties with advertising agency CP&B earlier this year.

Ads from recent Super Bowls can be viewed at

This was the second year that Lapchick and a team of graduate students conducted the study at the request of the Madison Avenue Project, an initiative of Mehri & Skalet, PLLC, and the NAACP. In 2009, the Madison Avenue Project uncovered a decades-long pattern of racial discrimination in New York City’s major advertising agencies.

“Despite the overwhelming diversity of Super Bowl viewers, the advertising industry continues to turn a blind eye to both creative and on-camera diversity. The 2011 report illustrates the glacial pace of equal opportunity in advertising,” said Kim Keenan, general counsel for the NAACP.

The study will be posted at TIDES also issues annual report cards on racial and gender diversity in professional and college sports. The group recently gave the NBA the highest mark on diversity among men’s professional leagues.

Categories: NFL (178)

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About the author
CRAIG DAVIS In more than 33 years at the Sun Sentinel, Craig Davis has written about a wide variety of sports topics from baseball to yachting, fishing to triathlons, and also worked as a copy editor and page designer. Recently he reported on local sports, including running, swimming, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball. He enjoys sports as a participant as well as a spectator, is active in the South Florida running scene plays in the curling club at Saveology Iceplex. This blog offers a glimpse at the business side of sports in the interest of enhancing enjoyment of the games and sporting options as a spectator as well as a participant.
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