Knowing What to Say and When to Say It: The Great Debate Over Nationwide's Super Bowl Ad.

The Internet is ablaze with discussion over Nationwide Insurance Company's choice to air an ad titled "Make Safe Happen" during the Super Bowl. The ad features a little boy narrating all of the things he won't do because he "couldn't grow up" since he "died from an accident." This ad hits anyone with a pulse right in the chest. Many were outraged over the buzz kill during the Super Bowl—a time when most people would prefer to think about the Carl's Jr. girl or lost puppies.

For those of you who have only just now dug out from under a pile of snow and have not seen it yet, here it is for review before we go on:

The ad itself is very nicely done and both it and its message are beyond reproach. The question here is: did it belong in the Super Bowl ad lineup? Many people say "no way!" and took to social media to express their outrage. Some even vowed not to give Nationwide their business and got caught up in the angry mob that can sometimes start on social media.

We understand that their goal was not to sell insurance but rather to start an important conversation with the largest audience that they could purchase access to. In that, they succeeded. But we're not quite sure it was the conversation that they intended. 

Unfortunately, more people are talking about their distaste for the ad rather than the topic it was intended to inspire. So as a company, they succeeded in gaining national attention, but they failed to get people talking about fatal accidents in the home involving children.

The problem is that the audience was expecting to see something that's just for fun. Trying to deliver such an important message at that particular moment was bad timing. Sometimes it all comes down to knowing when an audience is going to be receptive to a message and when it's not. It's kind of like telling a joke at a funeral. Funny joke, inappropriate time, Aunt Bethany gives you the hairy eyeball and complains to your mother about you.

But Nationwide isn't the only company that chose to tug on heartstrings. Nissan chose "With Dad," an ad that follows a loving family as they grow up over the years, but features 20 seconds of the dad, who is a racecar driver, getting into a severe crash as the mom watches in horror on TV while her little boy plays with a toy race car under the coffee table. But "With Dad" ended with a happy reunion between father and son, driving off in a Nissan together. The emotional impact was big, but the difference is that it felt good in the end and so avoided negative attention. We've seen in the past that a Super Bowl audience is totally receptive to being taken on an emotional journey, just as long as it ends happily.

Social media can also heavily influence the way people react to things. This ad got so much negative attention on social media that the people who actually appreciated it were drowned out by the angry mob. As more people saw the negative comments, more people made negative comments and it snowballed quickly into "the thing that ruined the Super Bowl."

The biggest takeaway here is that timing is everything. Knowing when your audience is going to be most receptive to your message is key or else you could find yourself in a sticky situation. Ultimately, we all know that advertisers spend money to make money, regardless of any well-positioned public awareness campaign. So we'll have to see if the old saying rings true, that there's no such thing as bad press—the rise or fall of Nationwide's consumer numbers should tell that story in the months to come!

What was your reaction to the Nationwide ad, GLAD WORKS friends? 

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