On Super Bowl Ads and Children Dying

By 7 this morning (morning after Super Bowl 49), I have already had 6 inquiries into what I thought about the Nationwide “Make Safe Happen” ad. The ad features a beautiful young boy who can’t grow up to get cooties, learn to ride a bike, or learn to fly because he died. He couldn’t grow up because he died from an accident.

As much of a football fan as I am, oddly I didn’t see the game. My cable went out 5 minutes into the game and I was stuck watching BrandBowl on Twitter. I saw the initial shock, the subsequent disgust and anger, and then watched it turn into a “my snarky dead child joke is better than yours” contest. I have a pretty dark sense of humor, so I laughed. Yes, I have a dead child and I laughed. Because sometimes that’s how you have to deal.

If you haven’t seen the commercial, will you take a minute to watch it?

I think the ad is brilliant.

As a Super Bowl ad? Not so much. But only because the excitement of the Super Bowl is palpable and an ad like this is really a downer.

But as an ad and part of a larger campaign? It works. And it made you talk. It made you think about the fact that children die.

As a mother who has watched her child’s way-too-small casket being lowered into the ground–not from an accident but from an infection– I want you to think about that. I want you to realize that accidents happen and children die. It happens. It always has. And no matter how many campaigns, vaccines, cures, helmets, seatbelts and laws we have, it ALWAYS WILL. Unfortunately, we will never stop death from happening — even the death of children.

The Nationwide commercial made you sad and uncomfortable and probably even made you cry. You didn’t like it because you were enjoying your beer, having a fun time with friends, cheering for the best team to win. It brought you down. And yeah, that sucks.

That’s how grief is, though. It’s what parents who have seen their beautiful child’s first and last breaths feels every day. Each moment filled with ecstasy is a segue to a moment of sheer disbelief that this is their life now. A life where their child won’t learn to ride a bike or get cooties. It doesn’t matter the cause, when a child dies, it’s a buzzkill. Just like the ad.

When I watched the video this morning, I also watched the 2 minute Nationwide Make Safe Happen Program Video. It’s a longer version of the ad and really gets to the heart of what Nationwide is trying to do. They want to help you keep your family safe. Take 2 minutes and watch the video.

I guess the answer to the questions I’ve gotten his morning is simple: As a Super Bowl ad, Make Safe Happen was a buzzkill. But it made you talk. And that? May just allow more children to get cooties and learn to fly. Isn’t that worth it? .

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  1. Thank you for sharing, Jana. As always your words come from the heart and that’s part of why I puffy heart you. <3
    Andrea B. recently posted..I carry him always.My Profile

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think what upset me most about the ad beside the placement was Nationwide never explained HOW they wanted to help avoid these accidents. Watching the above video is how I feel their ad should have wrapped up…instead it was just “Nationwide protects your kids”, leading the majority of people, including myself, to think it was a scary tactic to purchase an insurance policy that really doesn’t protect kids just pays out in the event of an accident. Even if they had a call to action at the end “Visit makesafehappen.com to learn more” would have been better.

    At ten months old my son pulled a small table on top of himself resulting in an ambulance ride and an ER visit. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I agree that this is a topic that needs to be addressed. I think Nationwide landed just a little off center with their delivery.
    Jennifer @ Also Known As…the Wife recently posted..The Regret I HaveMy Profile

    • I absolutely get that. And I didn’t watch it live, like I said, so I’m talking from watching it unfold on Twitter and then watching it this morning. Yes, they could have had a call to action. But right now I’m reading an article about how it was meant to be jarring, and this is interesting to me: “CNN’s cameras were inside a November meeting of Nationwide marketing executives as they weighed whether to move forward with the ad. During the meeting, one of the staffers spoke of disrupting “normal Super Bowl advertising.”

      I think Nationwide did exactly what they planned to do. I know there are going to be many differing opinions on this and that’s fine. I’m hopeful it’ll save lives. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • This is how I felt too. I get the point and the sadness but the delivery during the Super Bowl came over quite poorly.
      Meghan @JaMonkey recently posted..10 Life Hacks for Busy MomsMy Profile

      • it wasn’t ideal, for certain. but they got eyeballs and people talking, which was their goal.

      • Maribeth Conroy says:

        I agree! There needs to be awareness of accidental deaths, just not during the Super Bowl. My 4 year old died from a brain tumor and my other kids were upset seeing the commercial. My 7 year old was so upset he didn’t watch the rest of the game. Super Bowl commercials should have humor!

        • I’m so very sorry for your loss. And that your children were upset from seeing the commercial. I think they may have missed the mark on the timing, for that reason… that children would still be awake watching. There seemed to be (from what I heard, because cable was out) a lot of sad/downer commercials which is odd. Great ad. Timing questionable. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Jane – you were very much on target with your comments. Yes, thinking about a child dying as a result of a preventable accident is a downer. But the thought that just one parent might correct one risk, and save one child – well, the ad would have been worth all the criticism that Nationwide might receive.

  4. Hey beautiful, so well put … through love and sadness you find a poignant humor – as always.
    The ads were an interesting mix last night .. many tears were shed for many reasons and one or two have me hurting long after they are over.
    See ya soon I hope xxxx
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    • Thank you, dear. So many different ways to view this particular one, and all the other commercials. That’s why I wanted to share my viewpoint. I’m glad I have the chance to! See you soon.

  5. I was bummed by that ad, because it upset my state of mind watching the Super Bowl. But I am not a parent, and after reading your post I see things differently. Thanks for explaining the “why.”

    • Thank you for reading. Obviously, there are many different ways to look at the ad. Many in the child loss community don’t see it the same way I do. Each of us does grief in different ways. But as an ad, Nationwide succeeded in doing what they wanted, which was to interrupt your mindset. I really appreciate your comment. Thank you.

  6. Very well written. My son was born very early and I watched him fight for life. I’ve wanted to put him in a bubble of protection. Seriously, if I could, I absolutely would. I’m working hard to let go a little, but this ad felt like it slapped me right back into “get that bubble around my kid” mode. I wasn’t at a party drinking beer, worrying about a buzz kill, but was a bit mad that I was forced to feel all that protective anxiety resurface in the middle of the SuperBowl. Will I get over it? Yes, though I’ll sure be coming up with plenty of disaster scenarios that I should surely be trying to prevent. Am I incredibly fortunate that my son is with me? Without a doubt. I’m terribly sorry for your loss. I can’t a pain greater than losing a child.

  7. wow. I missed the commercial during the game, but seeing it within the context of your post makes it SO powerful. The timing probably was a drag for some, but just like you said, the timing of death is never convenient. Thank you so much for your perspective on this
    Dresden recently posted..We get the key on SaturdayMy Profile

    • Thanks, Dresden. I think timing WAS a drag for most, and there’s talk that they should have included more about the actual campaign. But I think that will come with time. But timing isn’t always right. Sucks, but it isn’t.

  8. This is a GREAT post Jana. I do think it is a very important ad, I mean yeah a downer, but life isn’t all dancing sharks and giant lion puppets. I was just with my family and when the child revealed he had died, the hubs and l just looked at each other and said wow….not oh buzzkill, or don’t bring me down, but yeah what they showed was important reminder to be careful with our kids. We live in a world with so much info coming at us, I do not blame them at all for the shock factor of this ad in front of the biggest TV audience of the year.

    • Right? You went, “ooh wow” and then carried on with your party and game watching. I”m sure there were some who just had to shut down and call it a night. But most people carried on and moved on to the next commercial with this one nagging at them just a little. Just enough to make them think. And that thinking is what will save lives.

  9. Linda Sheridan says:

    they wanted to reach a large audience and they did. If one death is prevented , Godspeed to Nationwide.
    The domestic violence “commercial ”
    Was a downer, too. Eliminating this stuff is our goal!
    Linda Sheridan

  10. Well you just made me think about it differently. I was really upset by it because I didn’t want to go there, I’m “there” often enough and didn’t need it in the middle of the Super Bowl but I do appreciate what you are saying and the fact that maybe others needed to see it.
    Jessica recently posted..I’ll take a side of feminism with my motherhood pleaseMy Profile

    • Thank you, Jessica. Loss is so different, but the same, for all of us. I applaud Nationwide for having the balls to run something like this. You know it wasn’t a decision they came to easily. Thanks for your comment.

  11. When it comes to preventing a death of a child, there is NO bad time to run an ad. They had a huge audience, glued to their tvs. Message was received by hundreds of thousands. Well played!

  12. Thank you for writing this considerate post. I have not lost a child, but I can on some level imagine how painful the spot could be. I agree the Super Bowl timing may have been poor, but on the other hand, when else do you have people guaranteed to watch the commercials?
    My hope, with this ad as with the Like A Girl campaign, Dove Body, smoking cessation, you name it, that these important conversations get broadcast to a wider audience.

    It would be wonderful if it could all be done without the unseemliness of someone making a profit, but they are who can afford to do it and as you said, we *are* talking about it.

    I am so sorry for your loss, but so grateful for your voice.
    Amanda recently posted..Use What You LearnMy Profile

  13. Thank you putting this out there. I totally agree that it made people pause and think and maybe even got folks to take action to make their children safer. Certainly worth the momentary buzzkill.
    Denise recently posted..IV Infusion Therapy For MigraineMy Profile

  14. I so appreciate your perspective on this, Jana. You’re so right – it was a buzzkill commercial, but I totally agree with you that anything that can make us all think about safety is worth it. Always love your voice – you never pull any punches and your authenticity always shines through. Thank you for putting this out there and for being such a wonderful mother, advocate, and blogger.
    Leslie recently posted..5 Annoying Trends That Won’t Seem to Go AwayMy Profile

  15. It is incredibly generous of you to take this approach – much more generous than I imagine I would be. My real problem with this ad was not that it made people uncomfortable, or was a downer, but my concern for the feelings of parents who had already lost children. I’m not okay with their feelings being collateral damage in this campaign, but I’m so glad to hear yours weren’t. <3

    • Thank you, Aliza. It’s clear there are as many thoughts on this ad and its execution as there are ways to grieve or even ways to lose a child. And those who HAVE lost children, like me, also see death and their journey in different ways. There is a lot of collateral damage and hurt hearts. But I’ve also heard from some who took a few minutes to secure items in their home. I remain hopeful that good will shake out of this, because at its heart, the Make Safe Happen campaign is good. Thank you so much for your comment.

  16. I get completely the warnings about household accidents and “shocking” people. And I’m fine with showing it during a big event.
    I’m not fine with the presentation. I’m not going to speak for others, but many people are still struggling with the loss of their children through unrelated means. My husband’s classmate lost his three-year-old to daughter to cancer last week. His only child. After her second bout. I hope to god he and his wife weren’t watching. Because what they will hear is all the things their child also won’t do.
    Heather Spohr wrote a post about it as well. “The Last Thing I Needed to See Was That Nationwide Commercial.” The subtitle says a lot I think- “My daughter will never fall in love or travel the world, and I didn’t need a commercial to remind me of that.”

    • Thank you for your comment. I actually wasn’t watching live, as I stated because the cable was out, so I had the luxury of seeing it after the fact and after watching the twitter reactions. I, like Heather, write from a place of having lost a child (in 2003), and like there are a million ways to grieve, there are going to be a million different reactions to an ad of this type. Heather’s post was fantastic. I’m grateful for her viewpoints. I read it yesterday, and like her, my son will never fall in love or travel the world. Or even get cooties. I appreciate you reading my thoughts on the topic.

  17. The ad didn’t make me cry. It made me think. And I think that was the point. It worked.

    This blog post did however, bring tears. Thanks for sharing.

  18. The main reason I was upset was that Ava was watching and she asked about kids dying. That’s what was rough. She knows kids die. Her kinder classmate died and she was profoundly hit when that happened. She’s a sensitive soul. It was a tough thing to talk about, but life is tough, right?

    Your post is awesome, Jana. Thank you. It’s a tough thing and I can’t even imagine. But you’re right. Here we are and we all talked about it. Even Ava and I did as we discussed being safe and how things happen. The ad did its job.

  19. Yes. I don’t remember the details of the ad and forgive me if I don’t watch it again. Children do die. Tragically before their parents. As parents, we ought to think of the possibility of our own untimely death. Do we have wills? Do we have the proper and enough insurance for children or a spouse left behind? Untimely death is indeed a buzzkill. But thanks for making me look at my own affairs. Hugs.
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