Parenting & Fatherhood

Nationwide Super Bowl Ad is NOT On Our Side

Nationwide Super Bowl Ad is NOT On Our Side

I think it’s fair to say most of us were shocked when we saw the Nationwide 2015 Super Bowl Commercial, “Make Safe Happen.” It’s pretty risky business to have a child in an ad who speaks in first-person about missing out on the best moments of his life because he died in a preventable accident. As a CMO and a marketer, I look at these ads trying to enjoy (and maybe learn from) their creativity and try to predict their potential success or failure.

It was a risky move and I knew its shock value would garner attention. It has been spoken about on the Internet but it hasn’t made any top 10 lists of the best Super Bowl ads. YouTube doesn’t even have it as a choice to vote for in its “Adblitz 2015” which has tens of millions of views.  People are still talking about horses and lost dogs, but the dead kid is forgotten.

As a parent, I have not forgotten about the boy who died in a preventable accident ad. When I saw it, my marketing hat fell off and leaving me with my parent hat (which is always on) exposed. I said out loud to my two daughters, who were watching the game with me, “what was the point of that? They both shrugged their shoulders at me. My daughter, Rebecca, suggested I write a blog about the ad.

Michelle 1988

The ad made me think about the time my daughter Michelle almost tumbled down the stairs in her kiddie car (carpet lip saved her), when Zak fell hard off the play gym in the basement (extra carpet padding braced the impact) and when Rebecca almost fell head-first out the shopping cart at the supermarket (dad made a diving save). Is this the kind of thing they wanted to have people think of during the Superbowl? Obviously not and that is confirmed by the 2-1 thumbs-down vote on YouTube (18,042 thumbs-down vs 9,251 thumbs-up as of 2/8/15).  Imagine how parents who have lost children (even not by accident) felt watching the ad. Imagine how parents of fallen soldiers felt. Ouch.

YouTube 2-1 Thumbs Down Vote

YouTube 2-1 Thumbs Down Vote


Super Bowl Ads are usually loaded with special effects and are typically one of these three types:

• Let’s feel good about this wholesome thing so you feel good about our product even though the ad has little to do with what we sell – think Coca-Cola #MakeItHappy or “Lost Dog” from Budweiser #BestBuds

• Here’s our product and here’s what we do, sometimes humorous, sometimes not – think Jublia and Toenail Fungus, Sprint’s Screeching Donkey or my personal favorite Super Bowl ad with Fiat and the little blue pill

• Use sex to sell – think Victoria’s Secret or Au Naturel Burger, with Charlotte McKinney from Carl’s Jr .

The Nationwide ad is definitely out-of-the-box thinking – no special effects, not in any of these categories, no sex appeal, no humourous or feel-good message and they don’t show their product (unless they were trying to sell life insurance for kids). When you put dead kids in an ad, you run the risk of seeming like you want to use a horrifying gimmick, to appear like you really care, to get people to remember your brand. The key to successful advertising today is being openly genuine, and Nationwide came across as being callous and fake. I thought sarcastically at the time, “yeah they really care about me and my kids.”

The Nationwide ad was one we all want to forget. They could have been credited with launching a nationwide campaign to save children’s lives. They should have created an ad that showed children who are about to be in a “preventable accident” (without showing injury or death) and give the safety tip to prevent it. That would have some shock value and provide a positive and valuable message to parents. They could have ended that ad by sending parents to their website, “Make Safe Happen” #MakeSafeHappen where they have numerous valuable safety tips to help prevent accidents.That would have us believe they are genuinely on our side.



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