Super Bowl Rewind: What Went Wrong With Ogilvy and Nationwide

Feb 3, 2015 | Public Relations

We can only imagine what happened when Ogilvy & Mather’s creative team pitched Nationwide the “Make Safe Happen” spot.

Maybe Nationwide bought into the romance of an ad that would inspire (or shock) families into making immediate changes to protect their kids and loved ones. Or maybe, Nationwide didn’t want to invest in an expanded marketing campaign that would lay the groundwork to support a Super Bowl ad that could be misunderstood or receive a visceral reaction from audiences. Or maybe, as a collaborative effort between Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, the spot was managed by a committee, which we know can create misdirection and confusion of specific goals.

No matter what happened in that room when the idea was pitched, we’re pretty sure something was missed or ignored.

We don’t need to get into the details of the spot — we all know that the public had a negative reaction to the “Make Safe Happen” spot. What we do want to talk about is what our team would have done differently.

With the ad portrayed as a public service announcement of sorts and a means to “save at least one child” by startling people into paying attention, the delivery method was of poor choice. The Super Bowl is fun and happy, and while the audience is accepting of certain emotional content, they typically want to feel good about their teary eyes. (Imagine hugging their dad or seeing a puppy be saved from a wolf.)

It seems that when this spot was presented, Nationwide was thinking more about how they viewed the content as experienced professionals in the business of safety, rather than putting on the voice of the customer/consumer.

Nonetheless, if our client told us, “We love it. We want to spend more than $4 million dollars in the Super Bowl to run it,” we would have had a different game plan. Here it is.

Leading up to the campaign, we’d position Nationwide as part of a broader safety story by putting out various public service announcements, greasing the wheels with safety advertising in line with the spot and engaging in a larger public relations push where Nationwide leadership works to raise awareness for safety and the number of deaths.

Beyond simply pushing safety, we’d want the public relations effort to be an emotional one. We’d obtain plenty of national, top-tier media placements (interviews) to bring the broader, and emotional, story to the public. We would add dimension to the story by asking consumers affected by tragedy to tell the story of safety and we’d partner with organizations to take the story to affected families.

To add closure to the conversation, we’d want to create easily accessible digital content and resources for Nationwide’s audiences to obtain and use to make their lives safer — and make this a key part of the call to action on social media and through public relactions.

As Super Bowl neared, we’d increase activity to carry the conversation online using increased social media presence, and pre-release the spot as an additional part of the story. Essentially, by pre-releasing the spot and securing additional media coverage with Nationwide leaders, they would have had the opportunity to present the ad with a expanded story behind it.

By getting the conversation started early, you gain buy-in and acceptance (essentially advocates) in advance of the rollout of the Super Bowl spot. This way, when the spot goes live on broadcast, you have laid the groundwork of educating your audiences and the decision to air the spot would be perceived as a partnership with the public.

Finally, we would have asked that the spot have more closure by telling audiences what they can do, which could’ve been presenting in many different ways.

So to all the folks who hated the ad, with a little more pre-planning and investment of time and effort, this spot could have positioned Nationwide as a leader in safety advocacy.

Our bottom line is that better offense could have helped win this game for Nationwide.

If you’re ever about to drop $4 million on a risk, call us first.