Time was, Super Bowl commercials were all about comedy, artistry and the occasional celebrity appearance. In fact, it wasn’t rare to hear people say the only reason they watched the Super Bowl at all was for the commercials — and they watched those commercials because they were colorful, funny or touching.
It’s likely that no one has ever said they watched the Super Bowl in hopes the commercials would provide a dose of morbid reality. Perhaps someone should have clued the marketing department at Nationwide about that. The Columbus, Ohio-based insurance company is under fire for its 2015 Super Bowl commercial. The ad featured a cute little boy of about eight with big, dark eyes and shaggy hair.
It was when the moppet began talking that outrage ensued — because he was talking about all the great things in his life that would never happen because he had been killed in a car accident. As soon as the commercial aired, people from all over the country took to Nationwide’s Facebook page to weigh in.
Kyla Wales of San Diego called it “very disturbing” and a “poor choice.” Tessa Coots of Hollister, California agreed, calling the ad “disgusting.” “My heart breaks for those parents who have lost children and had to relive it all while watching your tasteless commercial,” Coots wrote. “How did you think this was OK?!”
Ricky Ross of McEwen, Tennessee took Nationwide to task for using a child in such a manner. “Nationwide is on your side,” he wrote, “especially if your side likes to exploit dead children for financial gain.”
As more people saw the commercial and expressed their negative opinions, an explanatory statement was issued by Matt Jauchius, chief marketing officer for Nationwide. Jauchius asserted that the ad was intended to be a sort of intervention on the topic, and that they wanted to convey the seriousness of the issue. The challenge became, Jauchius said, how to go about accomplishing that goal. They felt that a more comical or less direct approach might cause offense, and may not have done enough to get through to people and foster the awareness they were looking to create. The serious tone was a deliberate attempt to stand out from the other commercials airing during the game.
Cheryl Clark of St. Augustine, Florida — whose son was killed in a car accident — didn’t buy Jauchius’ rationale and essentially accused Nationwide of being out to make a quick buck any way they could. “Nationwide, can you tell me how buying your insurance could have saved my son in his car accident?” she queried, closing by calling the ad the “worst commercial ever.”
Jennifer Thomas of Pittsburg, California also lost a child in a car accident and agreed with Clark. “This commercial was very hurtful to me and all of the other grieving mothers,” she said. “We demand a public apology.”
For all the outcry against the ad, it did have some supporters. Lucas Tune of Philadelphia called the Nationwide ad the “best commercial ever” and lauded the company for tackling such a sensitive subject. “If only this nation of crybaby whiners could handle reality,” he wrote. “Kids die, sometimes because of careless, reckless and neglectful parents. Nationwide was smart enough to use a large audience to create awareness. I applaud Nationwide for informing people about something that is real and preventable, if you can get over the fact that it may be tough to talk about.”
“I thought the ad was just fine,” said Brian Kelley of San Diego. “(It had a) strong message (and was) great marketing. At the end of the day, people will complain at the realistic fact that these things happen, but if you offer the best service and product for them, the consumer will buy.”
One consumer who won’t be buying from Nationwide is Kellye Faulkner of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who could not think of any possible justification for the dark commercial. “All that commercial did was trigger my PTSD from losing my son,” she said. “I held his hand when he died. This is not the way to promote anything … not awareness, not sales, not anything positive.”
By Jamie Barrand