Super Swash Ad Bowl: Why, Nationwide (and Ogilvy)? Why?!

We had a Super Bowl party, of sorts, in which we largely ignored the game and watched the ads. This is a thing that ad agencies do. I personally livetweeted many of the ads. The requirement for founders of young agencies to livetweet Super Bowl ads is basically like a federal law? I think you age out of it when you go to Cannes Lions for the first time. 

I rightly suffered scorn for missing both the Mophie ad (starring a cool black man as God with a dead cell phone in a fun spot that surprisingly did not lead to unchecked religious outrage on Twitter) and the Esurance spot (starring Lindsay Lohan doing Lindsay Lohan stuff in an ad that was actually quite effective). I did not, however, miss the Nationwide ad. I'm not talking about the cute and clever one with Mindy Kaling and Matt Damon, by McKinney.

I mean this one, by Ogilvy.

If you're going to do a PSA, do a PSA. If you're going to do an ad, do an ad. You can't do both, because it will feel like this, where you have a good message about safety and a well-articulated awareness campaign that ends up feeling like a morbid sales pitch. Did you even know about that companion website until I linked it?

The content is fine: the message is about showing care and avoiding preventable accidents. It is striking and effective through the lens of a public service announcement. But the prominence of Nationwide branding makes it seem as if they are using dead kids to sell insurance, and the Dirge Version of the Nationwide jingle at the end doesn't help.

On a night that lacked great, culturally contagious ads but had plenty of good ones, Nationwide was the tip of the sword in a barrage of socially-conscious spots that, in turn, made us feel awkward and sad and guilty. This isn't always a bad thing, and I am all for hitting hard when you have a point to make. But the little details of this spot were so clumsily put together, it was never going to end up as anything other than something that would be off-putting and / or fiercely mocked.

I am piling on where plenty of others have already been critical, and I freely admit that I have never had a $4.5 million ad buy on the line. I don't really know what that kind of pressure is like as an agency head or a creative director. And I don't necessarily think that Nationwide's intentions were bad as much as they were maybe misrepresented by the final product.

I wonder, though, if having another shop make The Bad One is where Nationwide went wrong. McKinney has been their lead agency since 2008. Ogilvy and Mather are responsible for The Bad One, and they are certainly familiar with big ad buys and pressure and the need to execute. So how did this even make it through the briefing process, or storyboards? If McKinney's planners or CD's had been brought in for tone'n'feel purposes, could this have been avoided? WHY DIDN'T THEY WRAP UP WITH JUST THE URL AND THE CAMPAIGN NAME AND KEEP THE NATIONWIDE LOGO TINY AND JUST AT THE END?

Josh Berthume