People always gather around the office water cooler on the Monday after the Super Bowl to chat about their favourite commercials from the previous night.
Since advertisers spend millions of dollars for a 30-second spot during the big game, these commercials are often the best and most creative the industry has to offer. We saw that on display again yesterday, with another touching Budweiser puppy commercial and a very clever ad featuring Breaking Bad’s Walter White as a pharmacist.
But the commercial that is generating the most discussion today has nothing to do with humour or creativity. Instead, Nationwide Insurance sparked a nationwide debate over Super Bowl advertising when it ran a controversial spot targeting preventable childhood accidents in the home. The commercial was shot from a young boy’s perspective, as he was lamenting all of the things he would never experience because he died at a young age.
As the sombre commercial concludes, the following words are flashed up on the screen: The number one cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents.
Moments after the commercial ran, thousands of people were complaining on social media that Nationwide had played the role of Debbie Downer on Super Bowl Sunday by taking such a serious tone. The spot received so much backlash that the company was actually forced to issue a statement defending the commercial.
“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,” the statement read.
People complained their Super Bowl parties were ruined by the Nationwide commercial, as the tone in living rooms across America shifted. Instead of enjoying their guacamole and chips, people were forced to think about preventable childhood accidents and deaths.
So the question is this: Was the Super Bowl the right forum to spark a national discussion on a topic with such a serious tone?
The obvious answer is “yes” because, quite frankly, there is no such thing as a “good time” to talk about preventable deaths with children. Would it be acceptable to run this ad during the Oscars? Or what about during the season finale of a popular sitcoms like Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory? Chances are, if you have tens of millions of people tuning into a singular television event, it’s going to have a feel-good element to it.
There is no better time than the Super Bowl to start this discussion, because if preventable childhood accidents are the No. 1 cause of death amongst children, then parents need to start paying closer attention. The Super Bowl is always the most-watched television event of the year, with more than 100 million North Americans tuning into the game. Therefore, it stands to reason that this was the most effective way to reach as many parents as possible with this message.
If the commercial made some people uncomfortable, that seems like a small price to pay for spreading an important message. Will parents be more likely to check on their kids in the bathtubs tonight or to make sure the household poisons are well out of reach today because of that commercial? I’m betting the answer is yes.
And for NFL fans to complain about this commercial seems a little bit hypocritical. After all, we just spent an entire season watching our favourite football teams battle on the field, while the NFL completely fumbled the ball on a couple of serious domestic violence cases involving star players.
So if you were OK with watching NFL football after the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases, I think you should be OK to watch a 45-second commercial about preventable childhood deaths during the Super Bowl.
Follow along as Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with his wife, Sonia. Read all of Ian’s The Good Sport posts and follow him on Twitter @ian_mendes.