For a Super Bowl decided by what some have called the worst play call in NFL history, it’s no surprise that tears were shed. But in a world where hundreds of people actually bet on the potential length of Katy Perry’s pants, few would have been able to predict the real cause of many viewers’ emotional afflictions.In what felt like a flood of serious advertisements, no brand pushed the envelope more than Nationwide Insurance. The 45-second spot “Make Safe Happen” aired halfway through the second quarter and immediately became what I like to call the “Marley & Me” of Super Bowl commercials, based purely on its heartbreak potential. The ad, which was intended to raise awareness of accidental child deaths, features a young boy listing the many accomplishments he will never achieve. Inspired by childlike wonder and accompanied by impressive special effects, the ad then takes a serious turn when the child actor coolly admits, “I couldn’t grow up, because I died from an accident.” An overflowing bathtub, poisonous cleaning supplies and overturned television set fill the frame as a narrator urges viewers to help “make safe happen.”
The reaction went over just about as well as you would expect an ad about accidental child death during the Super Bowl to go over. Thousands of viewers took to social media to express their dissatisfaction. Of the 300,000+ mentions on social media, 77% were negative, making Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” campaign one of the most talked about ads of the night.
Questions began to roll in. How could the brains behind the campaign have thought this was a good idea? Could they not foresee the reaction? Critics panned Nationwide as the “big loser” and viewers voted the commercial the worst ad of the night. It seemed like a massive failure for Nationwide and “Make Safe Happen.” Or was it?
Within minutes #Nationwide became one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter, and the campaign’s microsite, MakseSafeHappen.com, received nearly 60,000 visits. Since Super Bowl Sunday the ad has earned over 6.6 million views on YouTube and has been talked about relentlessly in major media outlets. If Nationwide wanted to raise awareness of accidental child deaths, there’s no question that it did.
But was it worth the backlash of #NationwideKills hashtags and accompanying memes? In a crowded space, disruptive messaging can be an efficient way to capture consumers’ attention, but with 75% of Americans already watching the big game, did Nationwide really need to resort to shock tactics? While having accomplished its goal, it may have unwittingly portrayed itself as a buzzkill in the process.
So is all publicity good publicity? Nationwide seems to think so. It later released a statement standing behind the ad, claiming that raising awareness is “good press.” I’m not sure I buy that. But I’m glad not to have that jingle stuck in my head anymore.
[Hums jingle to myself] Ugh.