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Backlash over Super Bowl child death ad

AFP logoAFP 2/3/2015 Scott Eisen


A major US insurance company found itself on the defensive Monday after its sobering Super Bowl ad about children who die in preventable accidents triggered a social media backlash.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance said it wanted to raise awareness about accidental childhood deaths, which experts say occur about once every hour in the United States.

"I couldn't grow up because I died from an accident," says a young boy in the ad, after regretting he will never be able to ride a bike, get married or travel the world.

Haunting images follow -- of an overflowing bathtub, cleaning solvents under a kitchen sink, and a large flat-screen television that fell onto the floor.

"The number one cause of childhood death is preventable accidents," stated the gloomy 45-second ad that promoted the Twitter hashtag #makesafehappen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a "staggering" 9,000 American children die every year from unintentional injuries -- or about 25 a day.

Nationwide's commercial rivaled a sentimental horse-and-puppy Budweiser spot as the most-mentioned ad on social media, but not in the way it might have hoped.

"Unnecessary," "ugly manipulation for profit" and "just a punch in the gut for parents that have lost their child" were some of the comments seen on Twitter about the insurance ad.

Others joked at Nationwide's expense.

"I won't watch Katy Perry because I died in a depressing Nationwide commercial," quipped one tweet, referring to the pop diva's half-time show.

Party mood shattered

Johns Hopkins University marketing lecturer Keith Quesenberry said Nationwide fumbled by trying to raise an important social issue at the very moment when Americans were in a collective party mood.

"Most consumers want to support serious causes, but there is a time and place," Quesenberry, an expert on Super Bowl advertising, told AFP.

"They don't want to be brought down in the middle of their celebration," he said, adding that, according to his research, viewers "generally like happy 'Hollywood' endings" to their ads., which tracks how consumers feel about brands on social media, reported 53 percent negative sentiment for Nationwide on Monday, compared to a 72 percent positive feeling for Budweiser.

During a 4-1/2 hour period Sunday that included the game itself, Nationwide was mentioned more than 126,100 times on Twitter, second only to Budweiser, added, a social media monitoring firm.

Nationwide could take comfort, however, in the likes of a tech consultant who tweeted on Monday: "I will have to admit I checked the cabinets, doors and children after that commercial."

"This ad really makes you think about how precious life is," read another comment on the website of Adweek, a trade journal. "It was a daring move."

In a statement, Nationwide defended the commercial, which stood out dramatically from a raft of father-friendly "dad-vertising" that featured prominently among this year's Super Bowl spots.

"The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance," said the Ohio-based mutual, which is among the 100 biggest companies in the United States.

Forgotten 'invisible' ad

Virtually forgotten was Nationwide's other Super Bowl ad -- a humorous take on customer service featuring an "invisible" Mindy Kaling hitting on actor Matt Damon in a restaurant.

Cable news channel CNN, which had exclusive access to the making of the child death ad, described Nationwide executives hoping the spot would upend "normal Super Bowl advertising."

"In 60 seconds, we can probably bring more attention and awareness and action around this issue than we have in 60 years," said Ogilvy and Mather president Adam Tucker, whose firm created the ad.

More than 70 advertisers paid a reported $4.5 million per 30 seconds of air time to appear during the Super Bowl, the annual American football championship that is viewed by 115 million Americans.

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