Making sure ads play to women, too

Firms tailor messages as Super Bowl draws more female viewers

By Keith Reed, Globe Staff

Between plays during Super Bowl XXXVIII on Sunday, viewers will see commercials for cars, impotence drugs, and, of course, beer — none of which will come as a surprise to the more than 40 million men who will once again sit down to watch the game.

But while Super Bowl commercials will continue to be mostly male-oriented this year, there is at least one unusual pitch: a commercial showcasing the softness of Charmin toilet paper, a product whose core buyer is a “family-centric mom,” says its maker.

Charmin’s manufacturer, Procter & Gamble — one of the companies that puts the soap ads in soap operas — is aiming its message at the large and growing female contingent of Super Bowl viewers. Women make up more than a third of the viewing audience for the Super Bowl, and that audience is growing, giving brands like Charmin increasing motivation to use the game to target core consumers.

“The changing demographics of the Super Bowl viewers really meant a lot here,” said John Brase, brand manager for Procter & Gamble’s Charmin.

It won’t be cheap for Procter & Gamble, or any other marketer, to reach its audience. Thirty seconds of airtime during this year’s Super Bowl sold for a record $2.25 million, according to the trade publication Advertising Age.

While advertisers this year are still by and large going after the lucrative 18- to 34-year-old male viewer, marketing specialists say they’ve recognized the clout of female football fans, and taken pains to at least ensure Super Bowl commercials won’t offend them.

“As an advertiser, you don’t want to alienate 20 or 30 or 40 million women via the catfight beer ad,” said Andrew Rohm, assistant professor of marketing at Northeastern University, referring to Miller Lite’s 2003 campaign that featured two women mud-wrestling over whether the beer “tastes great” or is “less filling.”

“The Super Bowl has far too wide an audience mix between males and females to take that approach,” he said. “You’re going to end up either wasting a lot of money or alienating a potential part of the market. The stakes are too high for an advertiser to do that.”

The ranks of female Super Bowl watchers are growing. About 32.6 million of last year’s viewers were adult females, up from 30.6 million in 2001 and 32.2 million in 2002, according to CBS. Perhaps even more telling is that last year 85 percent more adult women watched the Super Bowl than watched the Academy Awards, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The growing number of female football fans has translated into efforts by the National Football League in recent years to market its teams and the game directly to women. All 32 NFL teams hold classes called “NFL 101,” which teaches the rules and history of football to female fans.

About 10,000 women attended the class last year, according to the league, prompting some teams to begin teaching an advanced course and a Spanish-language version this year, said Dan Masonson, an NFL spokesman.

In the past two years, the NFL also increased the amount of apparel and other merchandise for women that it licenses, he said.

“We’ve really stepped up a lot of the merchandise that is made for and fitted for women, so they don’t have to wear a men’s jersey of their favorite team, they can buy one for themselves,” he said.

Still, women have rarely been targeted by many Super Bowl commercials.

“Our target demographic is a mom on the go,” Brase said. “One of the most important things in her day is doing things to take care of her family. You don’t see too many Super Bowl ads aimed at her.”

Men ages 18 and older are still the largest segment of the Super Bowl audience, representing 47.2 percent of the game’s 88.6 million viewers last year, according to CBS, the network broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl. They’ve gotten most of the attention from advertisers, with some of the most famous male-targeted commercials in history debuting during the game.

There will always be plenty of Super Bowl commercials aimed at men because they are an elusive audience for marketers, Rohr said. Men between ages 18 and 34 are a prime demographic because many are not yet married or fathers, and thus have plenty of disposable income. But they’re hard to reach because they tend to watch little television, opting for video games or music during the few hours when they’re at home.

The one exception is the Super Bowl.

“The Super Bowl remains the primary program with which to reach a core demographic of male viewers,” Rohr said.

Even though there are few commercials that target women, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Super Bowl advertisers ignore the women who watch the game, said some advertising specialists.

The Super Bowl has a broader audience than any other program on television, so it makes sense to produce commercials that appeal to broader audiences, said Peter Gardiner, partner and chief media officer at Deutsch Advertising, a New York agency that produced ads for, Expedia

.com, and Mitsubishi Motors for this year’s Super Bowl. Gardiner said advertisers have learned, especially in the post-dot-com era, that even during the Super Bowl commercials that seek maximum shock value don’t work. That means over-the-top commercials with overt sexual appeals or other strong content are out.

“Those that tried to do these crazy ads to get instant awareness now realize that was not the way to go,” said Gardiner. “I think just generally you had people who were in there and were doing really crazy stuff, and those people are gone now.” founder Jeff Taylor said his company’s commercials do not target either gender, a strategy many companies are taking this year.

Monster’s ads this year depict a job seeker and an employer — both men — going through their daily routines, which, coincidentally, mirror each other. “I spend the rest of the year targeting diverse types of audiences,” Taylor said. “The Super Bowl is the one place where I don’t worry about the kinds of things that you’re talking about. It attracts young and old, and men and women.”

Keith Reed can be reached at