Was it Volkswagen’s winged engineers? Seinfeld’s reunion with George and Newman? Jaguar’s stiff-upper-lipped British stars?
My favorite this year was a bit of a dark horse, as it’s from a company whose products I’ll probably never use: GoldieBlox.
In case you missed the SuperBowl (and haven’t searched “best Super Bowl commercials” to procrastinate, as I may or may not have done), I’ll explain the commercial briefly. According to its About page on its website, GoldieBlox is a company that makes toys “to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers” by “designing a construction toy from the female perspective.” These toys still look like your traditional, gender-normative, pink toys, but instead of dolls and play kitchens, they’re miniature building sets that can help construct catapults, dunk tanks, parade floats, and more.
The company has garnered attention for its commercials before, but GoldieBlox became a Super Bowl attraction by winning an Intuit QuickBooks-sponsored contest intended to give a small business a shot at making it big.
The Super Bowl commercial shows girls picking up traditional girls’ toys—toy microwaves, dollhouses, princesses—and rushing away with them, running through suburban neighborhoods and streets as an upbeat song proclaims, “Girls, build like all the boys!” Eventually, the crowds of girls arrive at a park, where other girls have used these traditional toys to build a pink rocket. A team of savvy engineers—all young girls—then launch the doll-adorned rocket, effectively blasting the traditional toys into space as everyone screams in excitement, thrilled by the excitement and fun that science offers.
Wow. Not only does this commercial encourage girls to explore science, but it also does so in a way that makes science approachable. The color schemes are feminine—pinks and bright colors are splashed across the screen, with even the rocket being pink—and every single girl in the video comes across as incredibly excited to learn about science. One girl the crowds pass on their way to the rocket joins the rush after joyfully tossing away her crown and sash after winning a beauty pageant.
As the company said in a statement on the Intuit QuickBooks contest page, “We're not interested in condemning femininity or suggesting that a girl shouldn't be a princess if she wants to be. We're about giving girls the freedom to use their entire brains, whether they build a rocket launcher, or a parade float, or a catapult. It's up to them.”
This commercial would be awesome no matter when or where it aired, but that it aired at the Super Bowl is what makes it really special. Air a commercial online, and people can see it, but nobody is guaranteed to. Air a commercial during the Super Bowl, by contrast, millions of people are guaranteed to see it. That means millions of parents considering new ways to entertain and stimulate their daughters, millions of brothers thinking of new ways to play with their sisters, and, most importantly, millions of young girls getting interested in GoldieBlox’s toys, and, transitively, science.
That doesn’t mean that every girl will be interested in GoldieBlox, or needs to be. As a creative writing major, I have a healthy respect for women (and people) who don’t pursue scientific degrees and careers because they simply aren’t interested in the sciences. At the same time, making sure that women know they can and should succeed in a field traditionally dominated by men—and being reminded of that message during a cultural event dominated by masculinity—is important, and all the better if that encouragement starts at a young age.
The greatest part about this commercial, though, is that although a message of female empowerment may be an exception at the Super Bowl, that message is becoming less and less of an exception in American culture in general. From pop culture, with touchstones such as GoldieBlox and even Disney’s Frozen, to politics, with the ascents of Wendy Davis and Hillary Clinton, women are being shown more and more that there are no roles and goals they cannot occupy and conquer. We still have a long way to go (I’m looking at the university’s response to sexual assault, Columbia), but the crowds have begun to walk down those suburban streets, and the fires underneath the pink rocket are starting to be lit.
I say, prepare for launch.