The XX Factor

Olympic Marketing Promotes Girl Power

Based solely on the advertising, you’d think that the 10 million to 15 million men tuning into the Winter Olympics every night were an entirely different subset-perhaps a whole different species-than the 57 million family-loathing misogynists who watched the Super Bowl. The Olympics ads bring family-friendly to new heights, with parents supporting young athletes and athletes lauding their families. They support girl power, as Gretchen Bleiler snowboards to the moon and hockey-playing little girls tear it up on the ice.

Tablet’s Marjorie Ingall lays out the contrast in all of its magnificent glory:

In contrast to the Super Bowl’s “woman as succubus” theme, the Olympics ads depict marriage as a partnership. Parents share driving and child-rearing duties. One ad for GE touts the company’s medical technology: “I’ve seen beautiful things,” intones a middle-aged guy. “But the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen is the image on a screen that helped our doctor see that my wife’s cancer was treatable.” If that dude were in a FloTV or Dodge ad, he’d want his wife to die. Then he’d replace her with a more youthful latex version.

Why the difference? Ingalls puts it down to the “[ad] industry’s wail of impotent frustration,” but I think there’s a more insidious reason behind it. Watching sports represents a mixture of fantasy and fandom, and everyone brings to a major sporting event a little personal inner-narrative. The fantasy of football is, for men-and for men only, unlike Olympic sports-one of the road not taken, an irresponsible life of tackling on the field and debauchery off. The fantasy of the Olympics, for that key 18-to-35-year-old demographic, is that somehow, that could be any of us up there (which is the only possible explanation for the popularity of curling)-and now, in four years or eight or 12-our kids could be the ones thanking us in a Visa ad. They aren’t different men, and they aren’t different advertisers. They’re just going after a different little dopamine neuron in the brain.

Photograph of Gretchen Bleiler by AFP Photo/Martin Bureau.