At least, big-time marketers think so. Victoria's Secret--which has been missing on Game Day since 1999--is back this year, using the game to kick off its big Valentine's Day marketing effort. Procter & Gamble has bought a spot for Tide to Go, a stain remover. And Unilever will use the game to showcase a spot for Sunsilk, a hair-care product aimed at young women.
On the surface, such buys are a bit of a no-brainer. The Super Bowl is always an enormous TV event. "Over 90 million people will watch the game in any given minute," says a Fox spokesperson. "But over 130 million will watch at least some of it. Historically, 45% are female." (During a typical season game in the NFL, only 37% of the viewers are women.)
Still, marketers tend to ignore those 40.5 million women--instead using Super Bowl spots to showcase beer, razor and automotive brands aimed at men. And to be sure, the relationship between women and football has always been an uneasy one: Just this year, security at Giants Stadium, for example, has decided to address the Concourse D phenomenon (where Jets fans scream, spit and throw things at women who refuse to show their breasts as they walk by.)
And for years--in what turns out to be as big an urban legend as alligators in the New York City sewer systems--people have believed that the Super Bowl was linked to domestic violence. (That myth may have been sparked by NBC's decision to run a PSA for domestic violence awareness during the game back in 1993.)
Experts say there are two reasons behind the switch. The first, says Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall University Sports Poll, is the writers' strike. "The Super Bowl is the most-watched show, and almost always the most-watched show by women," he says. "And with the writers' strike, there is nothing else out there. Nobody's even sure if the Academy Awards are going to happen."
And even in a good year, the Super Bowl beats the stuffing out of the Oscars for reaching women. Last year's Super Bowl posted a 31.3 rating for women in the 18-to-49 demographic group, and last year's Academy Awards hauled in just 17.2. So marketers "would need two ads in the Oscars to reach the same number of women as one Super Bowl ad," the Fox spokesperson says.
Secondly, "while there may not be any more women watching the game than usual this year," says Todd Kirby, director of strategic research for Spark Communications, Starcom MediaVest Group's digital agency, there is a shift among the types of women watching the game. Baby Boomer women are a growth audience, he says, with women 55-plus up 25% since 2003.
And of course, plenty of companies still target women as the MVPs in the Super Bowl party planning department. Wal-Mart, for instance, is rerunning its lighthearted spots that feature women cooking, shopping and serving with all the intensity of gridiron greats. "The Super Bowl is a tremendous social event," says Kirby, even if it's not a great match-up. "In many ways, it doesn't even matter if the game is good. That's almost a bonus for advertisers."
And initially, Gentile says, when it looked like the Dallas Cowboys might make it, "some people talked about how good that would be for ratings, to have the teams with the two cutest quarterbacks playing one another. But I think that's insulting--a woman isn't going to sit through a three-and-a-half-hour game because she thinks the quarterback is cute."