We’ll be watching the Super Bowl to see if their million-dollar ads finally market to both men and women.
Whether or not you’re a football fan, you’ll probably find yourself getting sucked into watching the Super Bowl—the highest-rated TV broadcast of the year—if only for its highly secret commercials. Because with spots secured at $4 million for half a minute, you can learn an awful lot about how advertisers court consumers during these precious seconds.
Alcohol ads are a big part of any televised sporting event. And with women comprising 45 percent of all NFL fans, this may be the year liquor and beer companies finally strike that perfect balance of maintaining allegiance with the dudes while seducing the “fairer sex.”
Because beer and liquor advertisers haven’t had such a great track record portraying women in their ads for men, nor have they figured out how to market booze to female consumers because their strategies are so narrow-minded, both in the libations the companies think we imbibe, and the way they perceive female drinkers to begin with. So we thought we’d break it down in hopes that if we mirror back to them what they’re doing, they can see why we’re not buying it. Quite literally. Here’s how they’re selling (to) us:
If You Drink, You Must Be a Sexed-Up Woman of Dubious Morality
An obvious cliché at this point, this is the commerical shot from the male gaze, where drinking is immediately associated with Hot Chicks™.
It often involves goofy men gawking at women in a bar. But the most notorious example of this is possibly Miller Light’s “catfight” ad, which ran during the Super Bowl in 2003. In the spot, two women bicker over its motto—whether the beer “tastes great” or is “less filling.” It escalates into a violent catfight in which they tear off each other’s clothes while getting doused in water, and later, wrestling in mud. After an outpouring of complaints, the spot was banned and the beer company aired an edited version of the ad.
In these types of commercials, there’s no obvious connection between violence against women (although in the Miller Light spot, there is a troubling spoof on it). But thematically, they still wink at the idea that women who drink are sexualized, and somewhat morally reckless—dangerously underscoring the sentiment that intoxicated women put themselves at risk for assault.
Ten years after that Miller Light ad, it’s a topic still debated by everyone from Slate columnist Emily Yoffe, who shifted the onus of rape onto college women, wagging her finger at them as she told them to not to get trashed, to The New York Times, which powerfully shed light on how unresolved this debate remains. Any ad that equates alcohol with sex feeds dangerously into this cultural vagary.
If You Must Drink, You Better Count Calories
Ladies, expect to see more spots mansplaining how to drink on a diet.
In 2012, Skinnygirl Cocktails (low-calorie flavored vodkas, wines, and pre-mixed cocktails, a company created by Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel) came out on top as the fastest-growing liquor brand. Since then, countless other companies have been trying to capitalize on carb-consciousness. Market research indicates that women prefer lighter options to maintain their figures, which plays squarely into media-driven body issues—that watching your weight is still paramount.
The whiskey company Dewar’s found itself at the center of a recent controversy, when its “Meet the Baron” commercial sparked a chorus of hell-no’s led by a writer who started a petition to silence the ad. In the spot, the Baron, a slightly sinister attempt at aping Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man Alive, “rescues” his male friend from an overweight woman putting the moves on him. Once she’s out of the picture, they toast to “Swedish bikini models.”
Message received loud and clear: Nobody wants to meet a fat girl at a bar. Dewar’s all but wiped the spot off the Internet, tweeting, “We heard your responses to ‘Meet the Baron’ and have chosen to remove the video from YouTube.” How…valiant?
These type of insensitivities run much deeper than bad form. Weight-obsessed drinking rhetoric has enabled a culture of drunkorexia (yup, an actual term coined by an academic), which refers to the dangerous, calorie-conscious balancing-act between the consumption of food and alcohol. Why? Because even light booze isn’t a healthy choice per se: It contains little-to-no nutrients and actually depletes your body of vitamins A, B-12, and others.
You’ll Be Judged for Drinking, So Lay off the Stuff Men Drink
Not a Hot Chick™ of dubious morality? You’ll be girlier if you drink something softer.
Traditionally, sweeter flavors marketed to women—such as Little Black Dress vodka and (to put it in Slate’s words) “Cinnabon-flavored vodka as the category’s shark jump”—thrive in a safe, engendered place. There, women’s palates stay immature and benign, while guys get to sip on the hard stuff. The packaging often follows in kind: Some bottles make liberal use of pink and bright colors; others are sculpted in lady-baiting ways. Like, check out this Christian Louboutin stiletto that adorns a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck champagne. Feeling thirsty yet? (It’s only a matter of time before liquor ads aesthetically go the way of warm, fuzzy, escapist tampon commercials.)
Take the advent of the much embattled/ridiculously named MommyJuice wines. Some claimed MommyJuice glamorized consumption, but we’d argue that it dangerously demystified it. Launching a booze brand that purports to take the sting off motherhood’s demands, in turn launched a thousand dialogues about recasting drinking as a domestic necessity—rather than an indulgence—and the surge in female alcoholism. Exhibit A: The unsettling development that respected 20/20 host Elizabeth Vargas had to enter rehab after her end-of-day wine got out of control. And what did her son refer to that nightcap as? “Mommy’s juice.”
We’re at a crossroads here. Historically, women have had a profound effect on social mores. Remember the extent to which politician Nucky Thompson kissed the butts of mothers driving the Temperance movement in Boardwalk Empire? It’s because these moms, perceived as holding the family together, packed power, driving cultural status quo. Today, we’re seeing the reverse effect of that. Liberal enlightenment among ladies has leveraged change everywhere from the crescendo in gay rights to pro-marijuana legislation.
The euphemisms associated with female alcohol consumption toe that line. While it’s obviously seen as okay for women to drink—there are rules, drilled into our heads over and over through ads, that advise us on how to navigate this man’s game. Mindful of perception, we willfully play into those parameters and judge those who veer off course. But if it’s our money they want, maybe it’s finally time, ladies, that we think for ourselves.
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