The Super Bowl presents a dream advertising opportunity in terms of exposure. Each year the number of Super Bowl viewers continues to climb, with this year’s Super Bowl drawing the most with more than 114 million viewers. For many people, part of the Super Bowl attraction is the commercials—one of the few times that people enjoy commercials. This is why some companies save their best creative ideas specifically for the Super Bowl. Viewers especially like humorous and inventive commercials because the Super Bowl provides a fun environment. Football fans spend weeks planning for their parties to watch the biggest football game of the year. Therefore, when a sober commercial airs, it deflates a festive atmosphere.
This is what happened when Nationwide’s commercial centered around the death of a child aired. Dubbed as one of the worst and most depressing commercials in Super Bowl history, Nationwide’s child safety commercial did not evoke a positive response. In fact, the backlash on social media was fast, fierce, and bountiful. However, even though the Super Bowl crowd didn’t like the commercial, sometimes negative publicity can still build recognition. After all, Nationwide’s commercial sparked conversations around the nation, even if the conversations were based on frustration that the commercial ruined the party atmosphere. Because of the commercial, the Nationwide brand surfaced everywhere through conversations, social media, news broadcasts, and others.
Yet, in Nationwide’s case, the negative publicity may have hurt the company’s brand image. Two weeks after the commercial aired, the company’s brand advocacy dropped significantly by 38 percent. While negative publicity can sometimes garner attention, when the negativity evokes personal feelings, the outcome can be harsh. For instance, when a professional athlete receives negative attention for breaking the rules, the incidence may spark anger or disappointment from fans. However, an athlete’s behavior doesn’t personally affect fans. On the other hand, Nationwide’s commercial hit a personal button, especially for people with children. It brought up a circumstance that is a parent’s worst nightmare—one nobody wants to talk about, especially during a “party.” For this reason, Nationwide may have chosen the wrong moment to air its commercial.
Because of the high level of negative attention, Nationwide came out with a statement defending its decision. While the company claims it was trying to raise awareness instead of revenue, spending $6.75 million for a 45-second commercial is a big risk to take for introducing a sober issue and not sell a product. Even if the audience understands the importance of making homes safe for children, the overall tone and timing just rubbed millions of people the wrong way. Viewers often remember Super Bowl ads for their presentation, not so much for their persuasion. Therefore, although Nationwide’s commercial may have captured millions of viewers, getting them to act is harder to accomplish.
While Nationwide was trying to do a good thing, playing its commercial to the Super Bowl audience missed the mark. In fact, the company is debating on whether it will air the commercial again. Nationwide’s commercial may have had better reception at a lower cost if the timing and audience were on target. It is likely that Nationwide will not see big changes in its membership and sales based on this commercial. However, this incidence shows how important the audience is for advertising motives.