Viewers from all over the country tuned in to watch the Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1. In fact, according to Nielsen Ratings, it reached an audience of nearly 115 million people. Twitter stated that there were an estimated 28.4 million tweets posted about the game, and Facebook saw nearly 70 million people converse about it as well. Clearly, the companies that paid millions for their spots during the game received their money’s worth and then some.
Nationwide was one such company that paid millions to run its spot. Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” commercial stars a young boy who discusses things he will never be able to do—like learn to ride a bike, get “cooties,” or travel the world—because he died. The commercial cuts to various accidents in the home, like a TV that has fallen over, or an overflowing bathtub. We then learn that preventable accidents in the home are the number one cause of death for children in the U.S.
Reaction to the commercial was instantaneous, generating more than 300,000 tweets, according to Twitter. Many viewers expressed outrage that such a “buzzkill” of a commercial was aired during what many consider to be a family event. Viewers’ complaints ranged from the pain of having to watch the commercial alongside their children, to how it stood in stark contrast to other commercials, such as Microsoft’s ad that portrayed children as remarkable.
Nationwide responded the same day with a press release stating that it knew the ad would “spur a variety of reactions.” Nationwide has worked for 60 years to educate the public on how to prevent accidents in the home from happening. Adam Tucker, president of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising (the agency that created the ad for Nationwide), felt that this ad could shake things up enough to capture attention and raise awareness of at-home accidents.
“In 60 seconds, we can probably bring more attention, awareness, and action around this issue than we have in 60 years,” said Tucker at an executive meeting where CNN was present.
The ad certainly achieved the goal of grabbing attention and raising awareness of at-home accidents. Hundreds of thousands tweeted about the ad, effectively starting the conversation for Nationwide. In Nationwide’s press release, the company also stated that thousands of people visited MakeSafeHappen.com, the website Nationwide touts in the commercial, after the spot aired on TV.
Among the 300,000 tweets viewers sent out, some positive feedback was reported. Some viewers even thanked Nationwide for bringing a tough issue out into the open rather than brushing it under the rug.
“We wanted to stage an intervention and start a conversation,” said Matt Jauchius, chief marketing officer for Nationwide, in an interview with NPR. “If we save one child as a result of what we did in the Super Bowl, it is more than worth it.”
It is important to realize that although running this spot generated conversation about preventable accidents, Nationwide still took a huge risk in airing the commercial because of its startling content. The lasting impact of this commercial on Nationwide’s reputation is something that will need to be continually monitored by public relations, marketing, and crisis teams within the organization. Nationwide will need to keep an eye on public perception and the conversation that ensues on both social and traditional media in the months to come.
By Miranda Pietschman
PRecisely PR is the blog of the Illinois State University Chapter of the PRSSA. We write about Chapter events, the public relations industry, member profiles, and more.