This makes it all the more surprising that the Super Bowl recently determined that some things go beyond the pale of acceptable advertisements. Ashley Madison, a matchmaking service for people seeking extramarital affairs, was informed that, not only was it not permitted to advertise in the Super Bowl program, but it would not be allowed to advertise in any NFL game program, ever.
A big clue lies in the NCAA's 2008 decision to cut a Hooters' ad from its Final Four program. While the restaurant chain doesn't actively support infidelity, it is famous for its well-endowed waitresses in revealing shirts. The common denominator, clearly, is sex; while Superbowl ads capitalize on attractive women, their models are almost always clad in tastefully concealing clothing. In fact, in the greater context of pop culture, Super Bowl ads seems almost puritanical when placed next to the average Britney Spears video or Bratz commercial.
Traditionally, professional sports and women have been perceived as having an oppositional relationship. The standard narrative has a guy watching the game, slurping beer, and neglecting his wife. Over the past few years, female football viewership has climbed significantly, but the lingering sexism attached to the sport means that it has to be extremely careful about how it packages its image. With millions of dollars of ad revenue and a fragile relationship hanging in the balance, professional football simply cannot afford to present itself as being a conduit for sexual temptation and potential infidelity.
In this context, it seems likely that Janet Jackson's famous wardrobe malfunction in 2004 may have been a high water mark for racy sexuality at the Super Bowl. Certainly, subsequent acts have been far more constrained. With more and more women watching the game, one wonders how long it will be before Super Bowl ads start targeting traditionally female products. Forget Bud Bowl: I'm looking forward to Swiffer Bowl 2010!