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Give makesafehappen.com a second chance.

By: Molly Gorny | Date: Mon, February 9th, 2015


Nationwide’s makesafehappen.com Super Bowl commercial (aka “The Boy Who Will Never Grow Up”) was one the most talked about subjects following the big game. In fact, picking apart the pricey commercial was such a popular activity that the purpose behind the ad was lost.

Judging by the social media firestorm that followed the airing, and the fact that the ad showed up as the winner on all the popular “worst Super Bowl commercial” lists, the makesafehappen.com commercial was a big fat fail. But was it? No question, the commercial was dark and a bit scary. But then, childhood accidents can be a lot scary. Especially when you consider that accidents are the number one cause of child deaths.

accident chart

So, back to whether or not the commercial was a failure. If you measure success by the goal set out for the spot, then not only was it not a failure, it was a big win. In a statement addressing the controversy generated by the ad, Nationwide said:

Nationwide ran an ad during the Super Bowl that started a fierce conversation. The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance. We want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to all of us—the safety and well-being of our children. We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions.

Read the full statement: Nationwide responds

“The Boy Who Will Never Grow Up” definitely started that fierce conversation. However, the conversation likely didn’t go as the producers had planned. Instead of viewers talking about how childhood accidents can be prevented, they talked about how depressing commercials have no place airing during the Super Bowl.

We, consumers, are pretty jaded when it comes to advertising. It’s hard for us to imagine that a company would spend $4.5 million (not including production costs) to air a commercial unless it was trying to sell us something. Plus, we expect to be amused and entertained by the commercials that air during this particular event. But, it is possible that Nationwide was trying to do exactly what it said, raise awareness of preventable childhood accidents.

With most estimates putting social media mentions of the ad during the game at a quarter of a million, maybe Nationwide really did score big. Still, many argue that using a shock strategy is in poor taste and is ineffective. If anecdotal evidence is the measure, there is is no consensus on how smart it was to use such dark messaging. Only time will tell if, on balance, the risk of offending viewers with such a provocative commercial was worth it. That said, let’s put commercials aside and take a look at the actual makesafehappen.com campaign.

Nationwide launched Make Safe Happen in January. To design and manage the effort, Nationwide teamed with Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The effort also includes industry and safety advocacy groups like the Center for Injury and Research Policy, National Drowning Prevention Alliance, Parents for Window Blind Safety, Meghan’s Hope, and The Zac Foundation. (Note: several of these groups are sponsored by Nationwide.)

The key goals for the program, as outlined by Nationwide, are to:

  • Raise awareness
  • Provide tools
  • Convene experts
  • Take action
  • Advocate for change
  • Give Back

Among the key elements of the campaign are the makesafehappen.com website and an app that is available for both Android and iPhone. The app features room-by-room safety checklists, a reminder calendar, and a progress tracker. (Download the app.)

makesafehappen.com app

The makesafehappen.com website contains the checklists as well. It also contains a number of resources you can share with others in order to help increase awareness. Safety tips are available by child age and by room in the house. Resources for areas such as the swimming pool and bounce houses are also included.

To be fair, we should note that Nationwide puts in a few plugs for itself on the website. It provides a detailed timeline of its record and makes a subtle case for why it is a leader in the area of child safety and outreach. This pitch is not, however, front and center and does not detract from the really important information on the site — how we can help prevent childhood accidents and raise awareness.

Our discussion of this commercial is not intended as an endorsement of Nationwide. Instead, we hope that it will encourage you to put the Super Bowl commercial out of your mind and take a fresh look at the resources offered on makesafehappen.com. In reality, if the campaign is successful in preventing even one child’s preventable accidental death, then it is a success. Within weeks the commercial will be forgotten. At least until next year when social media and the media bring it up again.

Child Safety Resources

More on the makesafehappen.com commercial in the news

In case you missed the makesafehappen.com commercial, here it is.

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