Avoiding the "gotcha"

Nationwide has come up against a barrage of criticism following its Superbowl ad which focused on the story of a young boy who died. The insurance company claims that the spot was created to generate awareness, start a conversation about accidental death, and how their one true business mission is to help parents avoid such tragedies. 

While it may be true that Nationwide has a history of supporting this issue, the mistake Nationwide - and it’s agency - made last night, was to unleash a"gotcha".

It’s tempting, when you want to create change, to slap people across the face. It creates an impact. Makes you seen and heard amidst the noise. 

But, it’s risky. Nationwide probably will have received more traffic last night and today than in their entire history. But, is it the type of traffic they desire? Will those visiting the site, or talking about the brand take action on the “movement”. Will lives be saved? Will customers renew their insurance policies? Only time will tell. 

If you’re an organization considering a similar path, be sure to think about the following:

Don’t call a campaign a “movement”. Don’t claim to start “a movement” without explaining what the movement is. Simply giving people information about an issue isn’t a movement. Creating a website isn’t a movement. Spurring conversation isn’t a movement. A movement means you create a vision for a new future, one that requires cultural, societal change which you drive. And you invest heavily in that movement (beyond advertising). Where is evidence of Nationwide’s investment? Do they give 50% of profits to the movement? Maybe, but that evidence is hidden. 

- “Media” is no longer just a :30 spot. Consider it an experience and where you place your brand in that experience makes a huge difference. Running this spot before the cartoon-like Katy Perry halftime show created guilt and consternation from many viewers. When most of the Superbowl advertisers were previewing their spots in the week leading up to the event, Nationwide had an opportunity to do the same. Maybe Nationwide was advised that this would “soften the blow” but, in this case, with this timing, the message, the emotional impact….that is everything. Don’t try to be clever. Use audience’s eyes to see your brand and they will absorb it in their way. 

Don’t take credit, let the audience give it to you. By burying the affiliations to the two organization who actually help with the issue - Nationwide Children’s and Safe Kids Worldwide, the “gotcha” feels like a sleazy sales pitch because the substance of the “how” is lost. If your brand is considering a similar move, minimize your brand to almost beyond the pale. Enable the movement, by all means, but don’t take that credit. Treat the audience with respect and they will return it. 

Align your creative strategy across all channels. See those happy smiling babies on the Make Safe Happen website? The dad snuggling with his kids? Where’s the “Dead Boy” now? When you fail to make the connection with your creative strategy - and especially when you lead with the negative and then flip to the positive - people keenly feel the “gotcha”. 

I feel for Nationwide and its agency - the intent to improve a tragic issue is valiant. But, it’s further evidence that fully understanding your audience and carefully planning your brand strategy is crucial to achieving success with today’s increasingly savvy audiences.