Super Bowl Sunday has evolved into a national holiday with countless parties and promotions, a six-hour pre-game show, an outrageous halftime performance, and, interrupting the festivities from time to time, a football game. But, over the years, it has also become a Super Bowl of branding, with companies and organizations paying the highest price there is for 30-60 seconds of precious airtime during which they seek to entertain, impress, and persuade with hope of being talked about at the moment and for days to come. This year, many brands chose to go over-the-top with their messages and thus we have lost puppy dogs saved by Clydesdales for the Budweiser brand, Snickers selling candy bars with the (hilariously) fearsome Danny Trejo, and BMW using a clueless Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel to promote its electric car, a.k.a. driving machine.
This year, Nationwide Insurance made a bold move with one of their two spots in the game by addressing a subject that is the nightmare of every parent—the death of a child. The spot portrayed a young boy lamenting that he would never have the chance to enjoy the dreams of his youth or grow up and be married because he had died in accident. It went on to show a few typical hazards and closed with the tagline “Make Safe Happen. Protect what matters most. Your kids.”
The first thing that happened was immediate outrage across social media for raising such a serious, buzz-killing topic at about the time the game was starting to get really good. Nationwide knew what they were doing, however, and soon responded that they were looking to start a conversation about the important topic of child safety. Sadly, the ad was particularly painful for people who had lived the nightmare, exemplified by this post on the Nationwide Facebook page, “Nationwide should be ashamed! Will never use or promote this company because of this totally unacceptable ad! My grandson age 2 1/2 years, loved and almost over protected, by all of us had an accident in his bedroom and lost his life!”
But, as Sheila Quirke, a blogger at mom-me.com, put it, “I am here to tell you, [as] the mother of a dead child, there is never a good or easy time to talk about how and why children die.” Also, it should be noted that Nationwide has a long history of discussing issues of safety in the home, so it wasn’t a new topic for them, but it was a jarring way to bring it up.
As a business, Nationwide has little to gain from raising the topic. They don’t insure the lives of children. But, as a brand, they are demonstrating their values as dramatically as possible by choosing the highest-profile launching pad available, and spending millions to do it. That’s a brave choice and investment, with no immediate monetary return likely.
There is a growing trend for brands to claim that part of their mission is social responsibility. Some are able to clearly show how they have made significant contributions of time, money or products in exchange for good publicity but little financial reward. However, few have been willing or able to make a statement of this magnitude. Last year, CVS came close when it announced that, as a health services business, it felt compelled to discontinue the sale of tobacco products. This may have annoyed some smokers, but it was a beautifully strategic move that helps the brand prove its claim as being more than a drug store. So, CVS had much to gain from the move, and they didn’t have to spend $4.2 million for 30 seconds of airtime to do it.
Nationwide did spend that cash, and braced itself for the media (and social media) frenzy that was inevitable. There were plenty of detractors and supporters willing to take sides, but in the days that followed, it became clear that Nationwide had put a tremendous amount of thought and preparation into this move with what appears to be an authentic sense of altruism. Certainly, it would have been easier for them to tout child safety without imagining the death of a child. But, they chose the more difficult path for the sake of a more significant effect, and the world and their brand may be better for it.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.