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A nation in agreement: Nationwide’s ad was a buzzkill

Sally Herships Feb 2, 2015
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Imagine you are at the biggest party in the world. Katy Perry is there, on a giant, golden robotic puppet lion. She’s going to sing and everyone is having a great time, because it’s the Super Bowl.

Then an adorable little boy shows up in an ad and tells you he’s dead.

“You’ve been watching the game. Suddenly, someone comes in and puts a downer on it all,” says Britt Bulla, a strategy director with international branding agency Siegel+Gale. He echoed a sentiment that’s been buzzing all over Twitter. Nationwide’s ad was a buzzkill.

Shedding light on childhood deaths is important, Bulla says, but the the ad wasn’t handled well.

“Look at the context we’re in. We’re watching a ball game,” he says. “And we’re going to go back to watching a ball game.”

David Rogers, a professor of digital marketing at Columbia Business School, offers an opinion about as subtle as those popping on Twitter.

“I think their ad agency should be fired. They did a horrible job,” he says. “You don’t start a conversation by freaking people out.”

The communication strategy made no sense, Rogers says.

”It didn’t even have a direct enough link to their makesafehappen website.”

An ad for a not-so-peppy topic can be successful during the Super Bowl, just look at the spot that Procter& Gamble’s Always brand ran, says Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

“The interesting contrast is what Nationwide did and what Procter & Gamble did,” he says. “The two companies were trying to do pretty much the same thing. Which was say ‘we’re working on important issues that matter.’”

Amid the post-game day chatter about Nationwide, there’s the notion that no publicity is bad publicity. But it’s hard to find too many tweets or marketers who see it as a success.

One big problem says Rogers, is practical.

“They flash at the very end – this hashtag and url,” he says. “Your child could die at any minute, and what should you do about it? Tweet our hashtag,” he says. “Where are you supposed to go from there?”

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