If the response on Twitter is any indication, the Nationwide Insurance “dead kid” ad that aired during the Super Bowl last night may well be the most despised television commercial to run in the game’s 49 year history.
The ad, “Make Safe Happen,” begins with endearing images of a young boy experiencing memorable moments growing up. The mood quickly turns dark and depressing, as we learn the boy’s tragic fate in his own words.
“I’ll never learn to ride a bike or get cooties. I’ll never learn to fly or travel the world with my best friend. And I won’t ever get married,” the sad boy says as the screen flashes to the image of an overflowing bathtub–particularly disturbing in light of the news that the late Whitney Houston’s 21-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, was rushed to the hospital Saturday morning and remains in a medically induced coma after being found unresponsive.
It ends with the once hopeful young boy looking directly into the camera, and delivering his own epitaph:
‘I couldn’t grow up. Because I died from an accident.’
The odd juxtaposition of tragic breaking news and the narrative of the ad caught Lauren Michelle’s (@NYCVixen) attention, who tweeted “Thank you to @Nationwide for raising awareness on the growing epidemic of children dying like Whitney Houston.”
As soon as the ad aired Twitter erupted, and Nationwide quickly became the object of online scorn and ridicule. A small sampling:
Amber (@KrzyRunnr) tweeted, “@Nationwide Majority of ppl are outraged/disgusted especially parents who lost a child. Good ad if u only wanted a tiny % to enjoy it!”
Maverick Silva (@Cousin_Mav) tweeted, “Remember to buy nationwide insurance or your kid dies.”
Rudy (@Rudiology) tweeted, “I was gonna be an internet troll, but I died” -better version of the nationwide commercial
Paul McNamara (@buzzblog) tweeted, “I still can’t get over that Super Bowl ad from @nationwide. It wasn’t just depressing, it was downright offensive.”
Comedian Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) tweeted “The second I see a kid in one of these commercials I immediately assume they’re going to die. Thanks, Nationwide! ”
Twitter users also found a number of ways to create memes panning Nationwide, using the image of dead young boy featured in the ad.
Ryan Broderick of Buzzfeed (@broderick), for instance, tweeted, “I could have grown up to intercept that Seahawks pass but I died.”
Another tweet featuring the image of the young boy said “I can’t watch Katy Perry. Because I died in that depressing Nationwide commercial.”
While the USA Today ad meter, which measured the reaction of more than 5,000 “ad buffs” to all 61 ads that ran in the Super Bowl, said 15 of those ads rated lower than Natiowide’s Dead Kid ad (which ranked 46th), that measure appears to miss the intensity of reaction from those who found the add offensive.
The 1.5 million viewers who watched the ad on YouTube did not like it much either. Some 5,648 gave it a thumbs down, while only 2,017 gave it a thumbs up in the first 16 hours after the ad aired on the Super Bowl.
The ad can be seen on YouTube here:
The mainstream media are also panning the ad.
Don Kaplan of the New York Daily News called it “the most depressing Super Bowl commercial of all time.”
Margaret Hartmann at New York Magazine wrote:
Is there ever a good time to run a commercial in which an adorable little boy describes the life he’ll never live because he drowned in a bathtub? Possibly, but millions of shocked TV viewers felt the first half of the Super Bowl wasn’t it.
Yahoo Sports wondered if it was the worst Super Bowl ad ever.
Cosmopolitan Magazine asked “Why Was There an Ad About a Dead Kid During the Super Bowl?”
Nationwide, for its part, quickly issued a statement Sunday night, attempting to defuse the media firestorm ignited by Twitter users:
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. In fact, thousands of people visited MakeSafeHappen.com, a new website to help educate parents and caregivers with information and resources in an effort to make their homes safer and avoid a potential injury or death. Nationwide has been working with experts for more than 60 years to make homes safer. While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.
But Tom Gara (@tomgara) was not buying Nationwide’s explanation. “There are few things as disingenuous as an advertiser saying it’s just trying to ‘start a conversation,'” he tweeted.
Shortly after the spot aired, Adam Tucker (@Adman_Tucker), President of Ogilvy & Mather’s New York office, which produced the commercial for Nationwide, tweeted this out:
Truly proud of our partners @Nationwide and my team @ogilvy for #makesafehappen. The most brave and the most important
But Twitter users mercilessly disparaged Tucker’s judgment:
Al Pinnix (@alpinnix) tweeted, “@Adman_Tucker @Nationwide @Ogilvy tone deaf. Nationwide so you get money for your dead kids.”
Jamie Harding (@jamiekharding) tweeted “@Adman_Tucker My friends who lost children called it this: ‘a stab to the heart.’ I’ve been on the agency & client side. Horrific concept.”
Paul A-D (@Robogeek) tweeted, “@Adman_Tucker @Nationwide @Ogilvy Disgustingly distasteful.”
@CTIronman tweeted, “@jtLOL @instapundit @Adman_Tucker @Nationwide @Ogilvy This ad would be depressing even to a vagrant drinking sterno.”
Alexander Fulks (@alexanderfulks) tweeted, “@jtLOL @Adman_Tucker @Ogilvy every single person I know is boycotting @Nationwide because of that ad so maybe it wasn’t actually a good idea.”
The question many wanted to know: Who is the executive at Nationwide Insurance who approved the $7 million buy for this particular commercial, and how long will he or she remain employed with the company?
The company’s agency of record, McKinney, was quick to point out it had nothing to do with the dead kid ad. Instead, it produced the light-hearted and relatively well received Invisible Mandy ad (ranked 21st out of 61 by USA Today admeter).
“McKinney did the Invisible Mindy ad,” Janet Northen of McKinney confirmed to Breitbart News, referring us to Nationwide for comment on the “dead kid” ad.
Breitbart’s calls to Nationwide and Ogilvy and Mather requesting comment have not been returned.
The Nationwide “dead kid” ad may prove the exception to the rule when it comes to that age old maxim that an ad works if it gets people talking about your company’s product.
Judging by the response on Twitter, most people today are talking about how much they hated the ad. It remains to be seen if that will translate into less business for Nationwide.
When customers start wondering whether or not “Nationwide is really on their side,” however, it is not a good sign.