Super Bowl commercials are traditionally both must-watch TV and ads created by men, for men.
That appears to be changing.
This year’s Super Bowl features big brands starring female leads in their commercials, including one of the most buzzed-about: an ad for Bumble -- the dating and networking app where women make the first move -- which stars tennis superstar Serena Williams.
The commercial’s title, “The Ball is in Her Court,” was one of the first slogans for Bumble when it launched four years ago with an an all-female team led by Whitney Wolfe Herd.
"We are so, so proud to be in this together," Herd said on "Good Morning America" of Bumble's partnership with Williams. "We are going into the Super Bowl, a moment that really, really emphasizes celebrating men and we are here to say that we are here as well."
The Super Bowl commercial was created and directed by an all-female team too.
"That was really important to us, especially that we are airing this during the Super Bowl, something that is celebrated more for men," Williams, 37, said on "GMA." "Why not make a huge statement, and not only in front of the camera but also behind the camera, which is so important to have that support behind the camera as well."
The ad focuses not just on Williams as a tennis legend, but Williams as a woman.
“This is a different kind of Serena that we’re showing,” said Alex Williamson, Bumble’s chief brand officer. “We’re a relationship app so we’re not only talking about how strong she is professionally, in her sport, but also as a woman, as a mom, as a wife, as a friend.”
Williams has been outspoken her entire career, but particularly in the past year she has become a powerful voice for women’s equality, fighting for everything from equal pay to the right to wear what she wants to protections for working moms.
"We’re taught as a society that we have to wait and be second, but that’s not true," Williams said. "We can be first. I love being first. I only like being first."
The Super Bowl ad, which will air in the first quarter of the Rams versus Patriots game, carries a message of empowerment for women "in everything that they’re doing and how they’re going after their lives," according to Williamson. Bumble hopes the ad also makes women think about the times they’ve "been told no, or to wait, or to be polite, or that it’s not their turn," and urges them not to allow themselves to be held back or limited.
"It really talks about women embracing making the first move, whether it’s on a date, in terms of let’s go out on a first date, or making friends or just going in a business room and saying, ‘Listen, I want an opportunity to have an interview for this job," Williams said. "There’s nothing wrong with doing that."
It's fitting, then, that Bumble is taking its message to the Super Bowl, where women are not among the players and where women have not historically been the target audience, even in the face of data showing they watch football.
"For us, it’s catering to a different demographic watching the Super Bowl," said Williamson. "There are so many women who watch the Super Bowl. We wanted that opportunity to really be in the living rooms of people across the nation and share our mission and share our story but to do it in the Bumble way, which is to go against what is expected of us to do."
Williamson also pointed out the Super Bowl remains a great opportunity to reach men, this year with Bumble's message.
How do you really approach empowering women without inviting men into that conversation as well
“How do you really approach empowering women without inviting men into that conversation as well?” she noted. "We want this to be a moment that lifts confidence in women and really promotes equality."
Williams' Super Bowl ad is the kickoff to her partnership with Bumble on their global "Make the First Move" campaign. She will serve as a Global Advisor to Bumble to "reinforce the brand’s mission to end misogyny and empower women around the world," according to company officials.
New female faces at the Super Bowl
Bumble is joining the likes of Toyota, Olay and Michelob in bringing a female perspective to a traditionally male-focused national event.
Olay, the beauty brand owned by Procter & Gamble, is -- like Bumble -- advertising for the first time in a Super Bowl. Its horror film-inspired ad features Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Toyota's commercial will star Antoinette "Toni" Harris, who broke barriers as a female college football player. One of Michelob's two ads will feature actress Zoe Kravitz promoting the company's new organic beer.
A 30-second spot in this year's Super Bowl is reportedly going for upwards of $5 million, so the investment is not small for these companies.
“The climate has changed,” said Jeanine Poggi, senior editor of Ad Age. “With the #MeToo movement and things like that, there is a realization that there’s a big need to speak to the [female] audience and in a way they can appreciate and are not being talked down to.”
The climate has changed
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“Women were mostly portrayed as sex objects or stereotypes of [a] nagging wife or girlfriend or mother,” she said of Super Bowl commercials in previous years. “We haven’t seen those images in recent years, but there is still a major divide in the number of women who are in starring roles.”
Last year’s Super Bowl saw 13 women with starring or feature roles in commercials, compared to about 50 men. For this year’s game, there are currently 10 female celebrities slated to appear in Super Bowl ads, compared to 19 male celebrities, according to Poggi.
Yet women accounted for nearly half of all viewers of the 2018 Super Bowl. More than 60 percent of interactions on Facebook about the Super Bowl were sent by women, according to Nielsen.
Poggi, who has tracked Super Bowl commercials for years, called Bumble’s move in placing women both behind and in front of the camera “significant.”
We’re always challenging the status quo and with that, it can definitely upset people, but for us, always as a platform, people who are upset by our message probably shouldn’t be on our platform anyway.
Bumble has been targeted since its launch by people uncomfortable with the brand's message of female empowerment. Company officials said that they are prepared for any backlash they receive for running a female-focused ad in the Super Bowl.
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"We’re always challenging the status quo and with that, it can definitely upset people, but for us, always as a platform, people who are upset by our message probably shouldn’t be on our platform anyway," said Williamson. "We've learned that."
"For us, any chance that we have the opportunity to change the perspective and change the way that women view the dynamics of themselves and their relationships is worth any potential blow back we can ever receive."