Super Bowl not so family-friendly; content pushes new level each year

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 9:00 p.m. MST

Reviewers around the country decried several commercials that sent controversial messages about the sexualization of women and old stereotypes.

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The Baltimore Ravens weren't the only winners to emerge from Super Bowl XLVII. Companies that produced the funniest, catchiest, most interesting commercials for the 110 million viewers won widespread approval and even customers.

However, some of the material meant to impress and sell during the most-watched event in the history of American television had nothing to do with the cars or junk food being peddled. Reviewers around the country decried several commercials that sent controversial messages about the sexualization of women and old stereotypes.

The biggest annual sporting event of the year has been a traditional night for many Americans. Entire families tune in for both the game and commercials, which this year cost $4 million for 30 seconds. How to view and discuss the content are becoming more important decisions for families with every new year, family experts say.

"I think, unfortunately, we're rapidly getting to a point where parents are going to be forced to write off the Super Bowl as an event to watch as a family," said Melissa Henson, director of communications with the Parents Publishing Council.

"With respect to the advertisements, we're bound with this mindset that sex sells, and as many times as it's been debunked, there's still clearly marketers that cling to that," Henson said. "If you talk about (the Super Bowl) advertisements, which one built the most on goodwill?"

There were a few commercials that went with a warmer, family feel, delivering clever, fun messages.

One commercial that won acclaim and sent a message of goodwill was the Dodge Ram Trucks' "So God Made a Farmer" commercial, Henson said. The commercial was made to touch hearts and succeeded, while also building goodwill with consumers, she said.

However, many ads, and Beyonce's halftime show, sent mixed messages that many parents felt required them to discuss the appropriateness with their children.

"Here's Beyonce, who has such a powerful voice, and yet she falls back on sex appeal so often," Henson said. "I know that a lot of people were disappointed in the halftime show, that it was too sexual for a family event.

"If you have older kids in the house and you want to be able to share the experience … they're going to be more influenced by what mom and dad say than what they see on TV, ultimately," she said. "If you turn these moments into a chance to build on values, you can mitigate the negative effects of these advertisements."

Parents can use the sexualized, and often offensive, messages in commercials to communicate their values to their children by helping them to identify what is being sold and how and why marketers feel they have to use certain ploys to sell their products.

"With all ads, we recommend making your kids as ad-savvy as possible," said Sierra Filucci, the senior editor of TV and DVD at Common Sense Media.

Figuring out the intended product and message sent in advertisements is a game Filucci plays with her own children and suggests to others, so that "instead of being sucked into manipulation of the ad … it will help kids become more media savvy and better critical thinkers about media and stereotypes," she said.

Perhaps the most talked-about and controversial commercial this year was GoDaddy's commercial with model Bar Refaeli kissing a nerd. The commercial generated an immense amount of feedback and opinion — most related to feelings of disgust and to pledges against the website hosting company.

"There were tons of ads objectifying women, where women's bodies or beauty or sexuality was being used to sell a product," Filucci said. "Why is it funny that this beautiful woman is kissing this nerdy-looking guy? It's a hard conversation to have. When I asked my kids, my daughter said, 'It's funny cause he's ugly.' Is that really the message that you want your kid to get? It's pure objectification, and that's offensive."

The Hollywood Reporter broke down the kiss by the numbers after saying the ad "managed against all odds to crisscross cultural divides and effectively gross out an entire nation." Only 11 percent of social media reaction found the ad "positive."

When parents are planning on watching any live event on TV, like the Super Bowl, with their children, they need to be prepared, whether they use DVR to record, then fast-forward through content deemed inappropriate, or set up things for children to do in the other room, Filucci said.

"Don't be going as a passive consumer," she said. "By choosing to watch the Super Bowl with your kids, you are making a parenting decision, and you need to put some effort into it."

One particular group — Miss Representation — took action specifically against sexist messages being sent during the Super Bowl with a campaign, and accompanying hashtag: #NOTBUYINGIT. More than 1 million tweets were sent while commercials and the halftime show aired, telling companies that they weren't buying the messages being sent.

Mandy Morgan is an intern for the Deseret News, reporting on issues surrounding both family and values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying journalism and political science at Utah State University, and hails from Highland, Utah.

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