Make Safe Happen: The Death of Carefree Viewing

Nationwide’s ad put an unlikely subject center stage last night: child mortality. Cue agape viewer placing that queso-covered Tostito back down.

Twitter surged with negative reactions to such a heavy-hitting subject matter, and living rooms around the country could be heard echoing, “Whoa, that was depressing.” As CBS reports in “Nationwide defends Super Bowl ad about child deaths,” the company stands by its shocking, plot-twisting commercial. Nationwide released a press release that stated:

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.

And start a conversation they did. So… Huge success, right?

NationwideWhile I understand the strategy, and the well-intentioned social goal, I still can’t help but have an unsettled feeling about the ad. As I watched it in real time, and my stomach dropped during the last 20 seconds, my first reaction was, “Oh my God, my heart breaks for every parent who has ever lost a child, and is sitting in a crowded room right now, having to watch this.”

Yes, they engaged us emotionally. But at what cost? Shock advertising is nothing new, but with today’s social-media-driven advertising, I think we’ve reached new levels on the shock scale. They’re tapping into emotions that previously wouldn’t have been anywhere near a Super Bowl campaign. What used to be a lighthearted evening of fatty foods and funny car commercials turned into something completely different for parents who felt the emotional repercussions of Nationwide’s commercial.

If child death is not off limits, I can’t imagine what could be next. We’re no longer just viewers, but emotional participants… Which might be more than a lot of us bargained for out of a night of football and buffalo chicken dip.

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