Basu: Nationwide advertisement raises important issue but in wrong context


Pia Basu, Columnist

Thirty-second spots during this year’s Super Bowl cost about $4.5 million, which is up about $400,000 from 2014, and the commercials are much anticipated by the general public. During this weekend’s Super Bowl, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ran an advertisement about accidental child deaths, causing an uproar.

The ad shows a young boy in a series of scenes, including riding a bike, being kissed on the cheek by a girl and inevitably getting “cooties,” sailing with a dog and dressing up in wedding attire, before he suddenly says “I couldn’t grow up, because I died from an accident.” The ad then alludes to different ways in which a young child could pass away, such as drowning in an unwatched bathtub, consuming household chemicals and an electrical accident involving a television.

The ad states that “The number one cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents,” and a voiceover says, “At Nationwide, we believe in protecting what matters most: your kids. Together we can make safe happen.” The commercial launched #MakeSafeHappen to promote the safety of children as well as, a website created by Nationwide with safety tips for parents categorized by a child’s age, location and risk category.

According to Reuters, Nationwide is considering whether or not to continue running the advertisement. The reaction “was stronger than we anticipated,” said spokesman Joe Case. He also said that they tested the advertisement with a wide variety of audiences, and emphasized that the company did genuinely care about child safety.

Nationwide, one of the country’s largest insurers, has bought advertising air time during previous Super Bowls, and since the ads are relatively ubiquitous throughout the year, many are familiar with the “Nationwide is on your side” jingle. However, this controversial ad is drastically different from other Nationwide ads featuring popular celebrities such as Mindy Kaling and Matt Damon joking around, or quarterback Peyton Manning and his chicken parmesan sandwich.

This advertisement was a noticeably somber break from most others, and the public’s reaction caused the company to release a statement saying, “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.”

I think that the fact that so many children die from seemingly preventable causes is a very important issue and one that parents would obviously care about, but the Super Bowl is a tricky place to have that conversation. For most people, watching the Super Bowl is supposed to be fun and exciting, a way to release stress after this long week of work and bad weather and maybe even cheer on a home team. That doesn’t mean that important issues can’t be stressed through advertising, like how Procter & Gamble’s  “#LikeAGirl” ad did a great job of continuing an important discussion about young girls’ confidence in an uplifting, constructive way.  Even the National Football League’s ad about domestic violence, though a definite trigger for people who have experience with the issue, would not have affected children as profoundly as Nationwide’s ad, since its power was in its nuance and subtlety.

Many families and friends come together to watch the game, often including young children. This ad was tailored to parents who would potentially be Nationwide customers, but I think it is inappropriate for young children to be subjected to watching something they would be scared by and wouldn’t fully understand. The ad is downright depressing and a serious trigger for anyone who has endured the pain of losing a child.

For example, Frank Eliason, who lost his 4-year-old daughter Gia in 2004 during a liver transplant surgery, he shared his thoughts on the commercial on LinkedIn: “I enjoy watching the game with my girls, and try to forget the troubles the world brings. Then this commercial comes on. How would you feel if you lost a child for any reason? Can you imagine the discussion it creates with your other children who are 7 and 8 about the sibling they never met? Simply put this brought nothing but pain to parents who lost a child, no matter the cause of death … Insurance is supposed to be about making you whole, but there is no insurance in the world that can ever make the loss of a child whole.”

The place for the conversation about little children dying in unexpected, quiet and preventable events around the house is a tough one to have on any occasion, but if it is to be had on a day when millions of families with young children gather to watch the big game and celebrate, it needn’t be so unnecessarily graphic and chilling. I think Nationwide definitely had positive intentions that the company was definitely well intentioned, but this specific ad should never have aired during the Super Bowl.

Pia Basu is a Medill freshman. She can be reached at [email protected].  If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].