Nationwide had hoped its child-safety campaign would get a big kickoff with an advertisement during last night’s Super Bowl. Instead, the insurance giant is facing a backlash against the spot’s dark, morbid tone.
The commercial started off with a whimsical tone as a little boy on a tricycle tries to keep up with the big kids speeding away on their bikes. He later gets his first kiss on the school bus and sails the raging seas with his trusty dog by his side.
But his voice-over told a different story. The little boy says that he’ll never learn to ride a bike, get cooties, or travel the world with his best friend: "I couldn’t grow up because I died from an accident."
A message on the screen tells viewers that the number-one cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents. Haunting images follow: an overflowing bathtub, a kitchen floor strewn with laundry detergent pods, a big-screen television that has fallen over and shattered.
It quickly became the most talked about Super Bowl ad on social media—but not in a good way.
That Nationwide ad crossed the line. Ugly manipulation for profit. #SuperBowl— Marcos Breton (@MarcosBreton) February 2, 2015
The company had hoped to raise awareness about the problem of preventable childhood injuries in the home and give parents and caregivers information on how to protect kids.
"This is a difficult topic to talk about," Matt Jauchius, the company’s chief marketing officer, said before the ad aired. "No parent thinks it will happen to them."
The advertisement ends by directing viewers to the campaign website, where they can search for safety tips by their child’s age, different parts of the house, or risk, like water safety or poisoning. The tips are also available on a free mobile app.
Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, will be teaming up with Nationwide on more than 100 events to teach kids and parents about accident prevention.
After the game, the company said that it stood by the ad, which it says started a "fierce conversation."
"The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance," the company said in a written statement.
The statement ended, "While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere."
Also during Sunday’s game, the website-publishing platform Squarespace ran an ad featuring the actor Jeff Bridges, a longtime antihunger activist. Through DreamingWithJeff.com, a Squarespace site, Mr. Bridges is streaming and selling "Jeff Bridges Sleeping Tapes," restful sounds, guided mediations, and stories designed to lull listeners to sleep. All proceeds from sales will go to the No Kid Hungry campaign waged by Share Our Strength. Web users who stream the tapes will be prompted to donate whatever they’d like to the campaign.
The company recruited the actor about doing the ad and the tapes as a way to generate buzz about the company, according to Bill Shore, Share Our Strength’s leader. The actor agreed on the condition that proceeds go to No Kid Hungry. "We’ve done a lot of cause-related marketing," said Mr. Shore with a chuckle, "but this is really one of a kind."
Drew Lindsay contributed to this article.