Nationwide Law It’s the day after the Super Bowl, and if you’re dragging yourself back into […]

Bryan J. / 2.2.15

It’s the day after the Super Bowl, and if you’re dragging yourself back into the office after a night of rough sleep, you’re not alone. But wow, what a game! So glad I stayed tuned in until the final seconds.

Did you catch that Nationwide commercial everybody was/is talking about (above)? I’m not sure what was worse–that throw-on-the-one-yard-line play call from the Seahawks or this PSA advertisement hybrid. Right in the middle of America’s biggest nacho-stuffing, beer-chugging, calorie-ignoring partyfest, Nationwide Insurance wants to start a conversation about dead children. Talk about a buzzkill. In fact, a day later, we (read: the Internet) are still talking about the bitter aftertaste the spot left.

While many have used words like “downer” and “depressing” to describe the PSA, it’s not as if it was the only moment of darkness in the bowl’s advertising queue. There’s always been heavier Super Bowl spots that work as PSAs. Even this year, the NFL put together a stunning PSA about domestic violence (remember Ray Rice?) that stood out for its powerful storytelling. It, too, was dark, but nobody’s complaining. So what was it about the Nationwide PSA that caused such ire in its audience (or at least the tweeting audience)?

An aversion to “buzzkill” is certainly a part of the reaction, but I don’t think that’s all. Underneath the buzzkill, there’s a very strong word of law at play in this PSA. As the commercial draws to a close, with visions of toppled TVs and spilled household cleaners–every parent’s worst nightmare–the message of the commercial might be summed up as follows: you are not doing enough to protect your child from random accidents. In fact, if you don’t go to our website and “make safe happen,” your child could very well die. The commercial assumes viewers have not taken necessary precautions to protect their kids around the house, be that locking cabinet doors or supervising bath time. Even more, it presumes that viewers are bad parents who don’t love their kids enough to childproof their residence.

Let’s put aside for a moment the question of accuracy–whether or not such awful accidents happen or if they’re even avoidable–and instead look at how the ad was received. Did it inspire a renewed spirit of vigilance (because, as we all know, the main problem with American parenting right now is the lack of vigilance…)? Or did the transparently manipulative intent infuriate parents who are already overburdened? Those are known as leading questions. I’m not even a parent, and it made me angry.

If the message parents and families across America heard was “you’re not good enough” or “you’re not doing it right,” the backlash makes perfect sense. What parent wouldn’t get defensive at the charge that they regularly endanger their child? Place this PSA in the context of a wider parenting conversation including Tiger Moms, Elephant Moms, busy moms, and their schlubby husbands, and you have a perfect recipe for judgment, defensiveness, fear, anger, aggression, and rebellion.

This is what we mean when we talk about the law not being able to engender what it commands, that “the letter kills” (2 Cor 3:6). Nationwide may be accurate in their assertion that children sometimes die because their parents didn’t take proper measures, i.e., parents cannot control absolutely everything about the universe their children live in. But whatever factual basis it may have had was completely lost. A million parents will walk away from this PSA angry about being judged instead of interested in their kid’s safety. That’s the way it goes with any law, including the Law of the Divine too. Ask the prophets, they’ll corroborate.

I’m not sure what a more gracious approach to marketing might look like. That’s a fun exercise for another time (maybe free food for hugs?). And even though most marketing material is law anyway–buy this and you’ll be happy, wear this you’ll be accepted, drive this and you’ll be respected, etc.–Nationwide laid it on so thick, that I think I need to decompress with something a little lighter:


5 responses to “Nationwide Law”

  1. BJ, Epic.


    End. Superlatives.

    My dear wife of 30 years has never once commented out loud live at any of the gazillion SB commercials we have watched together.

    However (while I was in the kitchen stuffing my face with wings, not paying attention) I heard a “noise” coming out of my wife as she viewed this Nationwide commercial. She was ANGRY. I’ve heard/seen her ANGRY (maybe twice previously) in 30 years. The other two were (oh so justifiably) directed at me.

    She thought it was the singular most irresponsible thing she has ever seen on TV. Do you have any idea what that encompasses?

    I’ll treasure that moment because I saw in her heart the very things you are expressing here.

    Great post dude.

  2. Michael Cooper says:

    I think that the prophets, including the one from Nazareth, might be surprised to see their insistence on God’s legitimate demands compared to an insurance company’s marketing by guilt tactics. As St. Paul said, it is not God’s law that is the problem, it is my actual, full of crap self that turns the law into death for me. I need God’s grace and forgiveness, not because “the Law”is a nagging, finger-wagging downer, but because I am an ass and always will be.
    I actually found the Coke and McDonald’s “love” ads much more disturbing and disgusting. Capitalism is a lot more honest when it sticks to law and leaves the fake love alone.

  3. Tricia says:

    All the ads were so unremarkable this year. I’m still confused about the absentee race car dad who lives the Cats in the Cradle soundtrack but “Hey, I will show up to your school with a new car!” And I couldn’t figure Nationwide out, was it a plea to be safe so they wouldn’t have to pay out? And really, I don’t want a free Big Mac, what I really want is for the cashier to realize I ordered a fish sandwich. Here’s hoping next year frogs return, not so much Exodus but Bud Weis Er. Great post. #writtenlikeagirl

  4. Joe H says:

    I thought the commercial was great from a risk management perspective.

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