Controversial ad during US Super Bowl broadcast

American football’s championship game, the Super Bowl, was played last Sunday (those of us based in Seattle would rather not dwell on the result).

The game was the most watched telecast in U.S. history, with an estimated 114.4 million viewers. Not surprisingly, this huge audience is an advertising jackpot – the revenue from this year’s game exceeded 330 million U.S. dollars. An average 30-second ad during the broadcast cost 4.5 million U.S. dollars. Companies spending that much money aim to make their ads memorable; some people watch the telecast as much for the ads as for the game. Most ads are humorous or inspirational.

This year Nationwide insurance company aired a decidedly less upbeat commercial about the toll of unintentional injury in childhood. You can see the ad here.

This ad has generated a surprising amount of reaction and discussion online, in social media and in traditional media outlets, not all of it positive. To be fair, it wasn’t the only ‘sobering ‘ ad of the day – there was also a domestic violence awareness ad, but this may have been forgiven as US football has had a number of high profile scandals involving interpersonal violence this year.

Many viewers objected to the topic of child death; others worry about the impact of the spot on parents who’ve lost children; and a few question the motives of the company (was the ad positioned to suggest that “there are things out there more dangerous to children than playing football?”) .

Purely from an editor’s perspective, I want to ask: do ‘awareness campaigns’ result in behavior change or reductions in injury outcome? How can we measure or study the impact of a campaign like this?


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