Amazon debuted a new Super Bowl ad starring Michael B. Jordan, and it's a parody of the traditional notion of a 'smart assistant'
- Michael B. Jordan stars in Amazon's Super Bowl ad promoting Alexa.
- The ad, titled "Alexa's New Body," features Jordan filling in for the Echo smart speaker.
- Past Amazon Super Bowl commercials have featured Alec Baldwin, Cardi B, and Ellen DeGeneres.
Amazon is continuing its annual tradition of airing a star-studded commercial during the Super Bowl. But this year, it's taking a slightly different approach.
The ecommerce giant unveiled on Tuesday its 2021 Super Bowl ad promoting the Echo, it's Alexa-enabled speaker. Titled "Alexa's New Body," this year's ad stars actor Michael B. Jordan as one Amazon employee's dream "vessel" for Alexa. Amazon's smart assistant can do chores like reading a book aloud or adding items like bath oils to your shopping list, but in the ad, it's Jordan handling those tasks - much to her husband's chagrin.
Jordan and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted the ad on Instagram. You can watch it in full below:
Amazon aired its first Super Bowl ad in 2016, a promotion for the Echo starring actor Alec Baldwin and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.
Two years later, Bezos himself appeared in an ad that took a similar approach to this year's commercial: in the ad, Alexa loses her voice, requiring famous voices like rapper Cardi B, actor Anthony Hopkins, and reality TV chef Gordon Ramsay to fill in.
Last year's spot starred celebrity couple Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi in a reimagining of what life was like before Alexa.
The overall theme of this year's spot, as well as Jordan's casting, could be a sign that Amazon is hoping to target more women. According to a 2020 study by Voicebot.ai, Amazon owns the majority of the US smart speaker market share - about 53% - though Google and Sonos have been steadily catching up in recent years. But 2018 data shows that most smart speaker users are men: Voicebot.ai data found that 57.8% of men had access to smart speakers, compared to only 42.2% of women.
Jordan's casting could also be a signal, as it flips the traditional notion of a smart assistant on its head. Smart assistants have historically had female voices and female-sounding names, which critics have argued plays into traditional gender roles for women. And although male voices have long been available on smart devices, the default setting is a female voice.
But while there may be sexist motivations for making a subservient "assistant" sound female, there may also be a technical one: Google engineering manager Brant Ward told Fast Company in 2019 that text-to-speech systems have historically been trained primarily on female voices, meaning the assistants work better with female voices. Various research has pointed to female voices as being more intelligible than male voices, though Fast Company described it as a "paradigm" that has been embedded in the tech industry for decades.
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