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What the Super Bowl Tells Us About Speaking Up and Out in 2024

By Katie Leasor, Associate Director, Purpose and Voice Communications, CECP

Super Bowl advertisements are often a zeitgeist of the current sociocultural climate. With companies paying $7 million for a 30 second ad to run last week, it’s not surprising that marketers and advertisers want to be thoughtful about how they spend their budget. And this year, many of them played it safe by focusing on universally appealing content such as non-offensive humor, nostalgia, and familiarity.  

Advertisers were cautious in part because of what happened last year to Bud Light after they experienced a boycott from consumers following a social media promotion with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.  

Despite their trepidation, many ads still focused on stories about a brand’s corporate purposepurpose as a feeling to portray sincerity, not to fuel polarization. We provide similar insight in CECP’s When and How to Speak Up framework to help companies determine how they can engage on issues that matter most to them. 

And while advertisers this year did not focus on issues that could be deemed divisive, they did market issues that they support as a responsible business. For example, standing up for anti-discrimination such as Bob Kraft’s ad on antisemitism, Stop Jewish Hate. 

Also, companies featured more women in this year’s ads. While there were ads for products that are trendy with young women, like e.l.f. Beauty brands, other ads like Dove soap stayed true to its purpose with an ad on keeping young girls in sports. 

What’s most interesting is the progress in how women were portrayed. FORTUNE’s Broadsheet reported that in 2012, 65% of Super Bowl ads that featured women were in some way sexist, according to California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s organization the Representation Project. That stat has steadily declined over the past decade; in 2022, the most recent year with data available, 6.3% of ads with women were identified as sexist.  

For brands to move from objectifying women to appealing to them at one of the biggest televised events over the span of a decade, it shows that companies find women’s empowerment a common ground issue to speak up on. 

Despite a change in tone from last year’s Super Bowl advertisements, it’s clear that consumers and communities still want brands to stand up for what’s right despite partisanship. A maslansky+partners study found more than 85% of Democrats and nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) agree that “companies have a responsibility beyond serving shareholders to make a positive impact on the world.” As our CEO Daryl Brewster said, “everyone wants clean water, clean air, and to take care of their communities”—and this also includes topics such as anti-discrimination and gender equality. 

Companies are not looking to rock the boat this year by communicating on potentially controversial issues but remain focused on the areas that consistently align with their brand’s values. CECP regularly advises companies on speaking up about issues where we agree, to move them from being contentious to common ground.   Contact us for affiliate-only resources on communicating with your stakeholders over the coming year.