Are You on Nationwide’s Side?

Like many, I laughed during the Avocados from Mexico commercial as fellow eagle Doug Flutie announced the first ever draft, rolled my eyes as Kim Kardashian snapped selfies with her T-mobile phone, and was overwhelmed with happiness when the Budweiser puppy reunited with his owner. Then Nationwide dropped a bomb on all of us. I sat shocked and silenced with my mouth wide open after watching this ad. Looking around the table I was sitting at, all ten of my friends clearly felt the same way that I did. Images of the adorable little boy acknowledging that he will never get married, the open second floor window with the curtains blowing eerily in the wind, and the small blue-eyed girl staring at us over her mother’s shoulder now permanently engrained in our minds. I’m certain that after seeing the fallen TV, thousands of parents jumped up off the couch and rushed to move their small children far away from the screen. Once the initial shock wore off, thousands took to social media, expressing their sheer disgust for Nationwide and its gruesome advertisement.

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(via Adweek)

Following the social media storm, Nationwide released this statement:

“Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don’t know that. Nationwide ran an ad during the Super Bowl that started a fierce conversation. The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance. We want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to all of us-the safety and well being of our children. We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions. In fact, thousands of people visited, a new website to help educate parents and caregivers with information and resources in an effort to make their homes safer and avoid a potential injury or death. Nationwide has been working with experts for more than 60 years to make homes safer. While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.”

While it is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of this issue, was the most watched television show in American history the right place to inform them? And did the ad really have to be so morbid in order for people to take notice?  Over the past three days, a staggering amount of content both condemning and condoning the ad has been popping up all over the web. People continue to furiously tweet at Nationwide expressing their grievances. I read one post from a father who lost a young daughter a few years back and looks forward to the Super Bowl each year as a temporary escape from this painful memory. He wrote about how hurt he was after viewing this ad and how it ruined the rest of the game for him. However, there are also many who support the commercial and Nationwide’s mission to start a conversation about child safety in homes. They have been tweeting and posting on Facebook using Nationwide’s hashtag #makesafehappen, which is now very popular on both platforms. I read a post from another father who said that he and his wife moved all of their household chemicals to a safer place and thanked Nationwide.

My original intent was to end this post either explaining why I support or do not support Nationwide airing this advertisement. However, as I read each article, blog post and tweet, choosing which side I supported became increasingly difficult. Initially, I was absolutely disgusted with the ad. All I could picture was millions of parents rushing to be with their children, hugging them tightly, doing anything in their power to remove them from harms way. How could all of the young children who saw this ad ever be convinced to take another bath again? What were parents going to say when their curious kids questioned exactly why that little boy would never learn to ride a bike? Did Nationwide ever consider how the parents of the nearly 8,000 children that died from preventable accidents last year would feel after seeing this commercial? I am sure living with this pain each day is enough punishment. They do not need to be reminded that their child is a part of that statistic during the Super Bowl.  However, after doing more research and exploring Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen page, my feelings shifted a bit. The site states that 72% of parents are not aware that unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children and only 39% of parents are concerned about home injury. The site offers parents with a variety of safety tips based on a child’s age, location within the home, and risk category (such as poisoning and water safety). Nationwide also created a mobile app so parents and caregivers can have access to this information on the go. You can join the cause and share one of the campaigns shocking statistic tiles on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest like this one:

Preventable accidents statistic tile

Nationwide set out with the intent to spark a conversation, and by the powers of social media, Nationwide certainly achieved its goal. Marketing Land reported that it was one of the most talked about Super Bowl ads with over 300,000 mentions.  If the saying “Any press is good press” holds true, does it matter that there were 6x more negative posts than positive? Even if you did not watch the Super Bowl or see the ad, you now know that the leading cause of death among children is preventable accidents. But was this commercial created solely to build awareness as Nationwide claimed in its press release, or did the company create the commercial with the hopes of boosting its life insurance sales? After all, Nationwide is a for-profit company. However, if this ad campaign and the tips on the site save even a handful of lives, is it all worth it? I would love to hear your thoughts. Are you on Nationwide’s side?


  1. In my opinion, the ad was to raise awareness in hope to boost sale. As you mentioned, it’s not a non-profit company and it’s hard to believe that it’s was to start the conversation solely. Airing the ad during the Super Bowl indeed spreads the ad rapidly, but the message implied is causing the controversy. If it wasn’t Nationwide but other non-profit organization, it might be less controversial. I think that this ad was aired in the wrong time…

  2. tcbcmba2015 · ·

    You and I were mostly on the same wavelength with this. The ad wasn’t the right fit for what they’re trying to do. There’s nothing wrong with bringing awareness to their cause, it just was not the right way to do it. I really like the social media banner you found that Nationwide has been trying to spread. The banner is great and informative… and so that only causes more questions for me. Why not use the banners to virally spread their message? Why did they even need an ad at all? To me it boils down to Nationwide being a little disingenuous for the reasons they made the ad. They did not spend $4+ million to “start a conversation.” They are a large insurance firm – full disclosure, I work for a competitor – therefore I can tell you they have a marketing analytics department. That group ran a cost benefit analysis before green lighting this ad to figure out how much brand awareness this would generate for the sake of sales, not a charitable campaign. That’s what irks me so much about this. Nice job with this, loved your thoughts.

  3. Although I believe that Nationwide’s message regarding child preventative deaths was one that needed to get out to the public, I do agree that there is something off-putting about this ad. On one hand, it was such a deviation from the other Nationwide ad featuring Invisible Mindy Kaling, that looking at the two ads side by side confirms that in the end Nationwide’s goal was to sell insurance, otherwise they would have had two PSA style ads. I think it is interesting, however, that more and more companies tried to incorporate social movements or awareness into their ads when their ultimate goal was to sell a product. While Always’ ad was much more lighthearted and I think much more acceptable, it also attempted to profit from stirring an emotional responsible regarding young girl’s confidence. Jeep also ended their ad with a claim about the limited water resources in the world. Are we comfortable with these less serious and depressing ads featuring companies trying to profit off environmental or social causes?

  4. Thank you so much for bringing up this topic. My colleagues and I have had conversations like this to debate that fine line between influencing change and just upsetting viewers. No matter how imminent or important an issue, is a scare tactic the right strategy to address it? I think most of the time, it is not. I can reflect on my time in fundraising. While soliciting donations, it would be easy to play the pity card and to emphasis how dire a situation is. However, experience has told some of the best fundraisers that donors want to be part of something bigger. Donors want to feel confident that their charitable gifts are part of a collective movement and making true progress. They want to feel that they are making a difference. This notion can be analogous to advertising. The target market does not want to watch commercials in fear (especially during the Super Bowl); they want to feel more informed and entertained. Nationwide (if not indirecting trying to increase sales) should be focused on building relationships, not weakening them by frightening people. The marketing strategy of being seen as a caring, experienced insurance company seemed to have been lost in translation for most people.

  5. Great post. I also was shocked at Nationwide’s ad during the Superbowl, and immediately thought their campaign was far too morbid for a TV audience. I was certain that the ad was a complete failure after viewing the countless Tweets and Instagrams that condemned and even made fun of it. However after reading your blog post I am also torn between whether or not this was a good idea. If the severity of this commercial motivates parents to increase safety measures around the house and the lives of children are saved, then I would definitely consider Nationwide’s efforts a success.

  6. Really enjoyed reading your post on this, it is great. I very much agree with you that, initially, it is quite easy to immediately dislike and disapprove of the ad, but after thinking and reading about it, I certainly have a less steadfast opinion.

    The main thing that is hard to believe is the fact that the ad was only created in order to raise awareness. I think it would have been much more appropriate for them to have used different language than saying its “sole purpose” was charitable. Also, a big point you brought up that I had not even thought about is the reaction from children seeing this commercial and questioning their parents about it. On the flip side though, the ad certainly got a lot of people thinking and talking. Undoubtedly some parents must have taken double takes at things around the house that could have potentially been made safer for their kids.

    It will be really interesting to see what Nationwide does next, and how people will respond to it. If this was really to raise awareness, will they continue other initiatives along this path, or will they simply go back to paying Peyton Manning to sing their catchy jingle ( One thing is for sure, if you ask anyone you know what is the most memorable Super Bowl commercial they saw (not necessarily their favorite), I bet many would say this one – and that is nothing to sneeze at in the world’s most competitive television advertising arena. As you said though, is any press good press?

  7. Back in my undergraduate days in the drama program (not a major, just for fun), my director always said its fine to move them to laughter or tears, just don’t move them to the parking lot. Some of the most compelling messages are disturbing, and I find it interesting that this one has caused such an impact.

  8. The heavy nature of the topic seems to really affect how people reacted to this ad. If Nationwide instead chose to raise awareness about something more people were comfortable thinking about (like the environment) then there’s no way that people have this negative of a reaction about it. Even though the general idea is the same (championing a cause to sell insurance), the subject matter seems to matter a lot. I can understand why people do not want to think about such a morbid topic, but the ad really did raise awareness of an issue that myself and many other people most likely did not even realize existed in the first place.

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