Sadvertising in Super Bawl XLIX

According to Nielsen ratings, 114.4 million people around the world tuned in to watch Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday. It is believed that just about half of these viewers were more likely to watch for the infamous Super Bowl ads than to watch the actual football game.

This year, we were inundated with emotional commercials. Watching the ads felt a lot like sitting in on a Sundance film marathon. Many commercials either went the tear-jerking or heartwarming route over that of laughter. The array of commercials was rather shocking considering we usually look forward to a night of wit and humor. The most talked about ad has certainly been Nationwide’s “Boy” that featured a young boy talking about all of life’s milestones, big and small, that he will never get to accomplish. After 40 or so seconds of this, he tells us he won’t achieve any of these things because he’s already died at a young age from a preventable accident.

I was completely jarred by this commercial. Everyone watching around me when it aired was left with mouths agape.

There’s an element of taste that needs to be assessed for every ad aired on television. The Super Bowl is no exception. In fact, taste becomes of extreme importance during the Super Bowl, as it is the most watched US television program each year. Nationwide’s ad made me immediately think back to the case last December in which a father who had lost his young daughter earlier in 2014 spoke out about the unintentional emotional damage caused by Facebook’s automatic feature “Year in Review.” Eric Meyer was overwhelmed with shock when Facebook posted at the top of his Newsfeed a picture of his deceased daughter with the title “Your Year in Review.” Although it was an unfortunate outcome of an internal algorithm that indicated people’s most popular pictures, Meyer said, “for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or losing a job or any one of a hundred crises, we might not want another look at this past year.”

Nationwide has since announced that they intended to shock audiences with “Boy.” They wanted to get the conversation going on this tough issue and anticipated some backlash — although they received a bit more than expected. The advertising agency in charge of the Nationwide’s “Boy” account, Ogilvy & Mather, had other storylines to present the topic of child safety, but this scenario tested best on focus groups. Amobee Brand Intelligence reported that 64% of Nationwide mentions on social media since the Super Bowl have been negative toward the company or the ad. Ogilvy & Mather and Nationwide claim they were attempting to break the mold of the traditional Super Bowl ad.

In trying to be innovative, they’ve managed to offend a lot of people who say the ad was much too somber for the characteristics of the spirit of sportsmanship and the Super Bowl. Innovation is key to a brand’s development, but the marketplace is much too turbulent that the risk of failure can be quite high. In this case, Nationwide unfortunately missed the mark, and will likely be paying for its mistakes for a while, in terms of apologies, brand recognition and sales.

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