Uncomfortable Is A Good Thing

So it’s the day after the Super Bowl. By now, you’ve heard the outcome of the game((Congrats to the Patriots on a hard-fought win over my beloved Seahawks.)), laughed at the fact that Katy Perry was a walking ad for The Hunger Games, and been told how you should feel about the various commercials that played during the game. It’s extremely likely that you’ve been told that Nationwide Insurance put on a tasteless, depressing, insensitive advertisement that pissed off a lot of people.

Before I get into my opinion, I want to give those of you who didn’t have a chance to see the ad the opportunity to do so. If you’ve seen it and don’t want to see it again, my post continues below.

In looking at the reaction on Twitter immediately after this ad played, it’s a wonder someone didn’t try to go burn down Nationwide’s corporate offices. The vitriol spewed about this commercial — while not surprising — was overwhelming. See, anytime any form of media tries to take on the tragedy that is the death of a child, you’re walking a very, very thin line. When you’re an insurance company who is using childhood deaths to sell insurance, that line gets obliterated and no one gives a damn about what you have to say.

It’s a natural human reaction to flip out when you hear about something that’s jarring to your psyche.

And yet, had this spot come in any other form besides an advertisement, it would have been lauded as a wonderful piece of writing. People would have looked at it as a heartbreaking reminder that life is fragile, and that not all death happens to the old. Children are our future. To see or hear about one of them passing on is a disturbing and dark reality that no family would ever want to go through.

While the venue Nationwide chose could (and likely should) be debated, people screaming about how there shouldn’t be ads talking about dead children are missing the point. Just because the ad made you uncomfortable does not mean that it shouldn’t be on air. Hell, the NFL had an anti-domestic violence ad which was equally as impactful((And likely would have been more so had it come from anyone except the NFL.)) on an equally dark topic. Yet, there’s no backlash over that ad.

The argument could be made that the reason there was backlash over Nationwide’s ad but not the NFL’s is the sales factor. The NFL wasn’t trying to sell you anything in their spot, while Nationwide was. If that’s your sole point of contention, I get that. I’m willing to accept it and will agree with you on that point.

However, if your argument is that the death of children shouldn’t be talked about on television because it is too dark, too depressing, too taboo to bring to light on the single largest televised event in the world just because it makes you uncomfortable…then I’m legitimately concerned about your morality. No topic where harm is inflicted (intentionally or not) should be hidden from discussion on a large-scale. It’s how progress happens. It’s how change occurs. It’s how what Nationwide’s tagline to this commercial stated — Make Safe Happen — actually happens.

Front Page Image Credit — bizjournals.com

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21 thoughts on “Uncomfortable Is A Good Thing

  1. This was the first I’d seen or heard about this, and when I watched the video just now, my reaction was to be appalled not because you “shouldn’t talk about children’s death on TV,” in fact, I think it’s a poignant and important topic. I was appalled because of exactly what you said–using this kind of fear and horror to sell their product. There’s a pretty big difference between the general “shit happens, get insured” message of most insurance companies and showing images of ways children can die accidentally to scare people into buying your insurance.

    *sigh* Sometimes people just suck so hard.

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  2. I am not upset about the topic of the commercial. However, I am not sure the Superbowl was a sensible time to air it. The Superbowl is typically presented as a fun or party centered thing, so to show a dark ad like that and then flash to Katy Perry and freakin’ dancing sharks makes no sense. The only thing I can think is that they wanted to reach a big audience, which is understandable to a point.Unfortunately the overall message is getting lost in the mass of Superbowl hype it was presented in. I don’t even mind the fact that it was an insurance company with the commercial, but the fact that someone thought the Superbowl was the most logical place to tackle such a complex issue is baffling to me. I’m not saying to ignore these topics or that football/fun is more important AT ALL. Just that it is necessary to consider the audience and atmosphere in order to actually motivate change, and as the backlash has shown clearly that didn’t happen.

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    1. I’m torn on this. Part of me agrees with you, as such an ad is completely contrary to the whole feel of the Super Bowl. The game itself is fun (even if I don’t like the fact that my team lost), the festivities around it are entertaining, and even the halftime show is supposed to be worth watching (though it rarely is). Why dampen the mood with something so dark.

      And yet, a far larger part of me thinks that the Super Bowl is the perfect time for ANY major issue to be thrown out there. When else are you going to get the eyes of so many people? I kind of hope that next year more social issues are addressed than what happened this year. People need to be hit with reality from time to time instead of blissfully ignoring it. This ad did just that.

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  3. I don’t think there’s much I can say that hasn’t been said already. I do think utilizing something like the Superbowl to show a commercial about a very important issue IS a great venue. It forces people to think about an issue they try to avoid, at a time they would want to avoid it the most.

    However, using it as a message to help sell something (particularly insurance), to me is in very bad taste. The commercial was hard-hitting. But the moment they started their insurance spiel at the end, I wanted to be sick to my stomach. YES insurance to protect against this is important. But not important enough to overshadow the issue of how many preventable childhood deaths there are each year. Now, if they had ‘sponsored’ the commercial, and made it about raising awareness for parents, I could totally be behind it. But as a sales pitch, it wants me to punch someone in the face.

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    1. I’m with you. Had it been a “sponsored by” piece, I think everyone would have been okay with it. Well…more okay. There would have still been quite a few people needlessly freaking out. But the tag of we’re here to pay out insurance if your kid dies was a horrible way to do it.

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  4. Using one’s personal discomfort as a basis for censorship not only reflects on their morality, but also their mental strengths [or lack thereof]. Then there is the reason to consider. Besides those who aren’t comfortable with being reminded of the fact that children do die of accidents, there are others who are upset that the commercial exploited the viewers’ pathos — sales tactics.

    That being the case, I will play the devil’s advocate and say let the insurance or any corporation keep doing what they do. If there are enough upset individuals to the point of fully boycotting this company, then let it happen. On the other hand, let the people who are easily intimidated into buying insurance fall prey to such exploitative tactics. How one receives this commercial and even the tactics is on that individual.

    Distasteful? Sure. Do people have the right to be upset by the content and the untimely method? Certainly, for everyone is entitled to express themselves. Manipulative? Oh, absolutely. But why is it considered manipulative? Because it works.

    On a side note, my site is up and running again! All’s fixed and ready to go. Link: http://express.ribboned.net

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    1. I was extremely surprised how few people were making the argument that the ad was extremely manipulative. Perhaps they were so turned off by the ad that they didn’t think anyone could possibly be manipulated by it? I’m not sure. I feel like the first 34 seconds (everything before the Nationwide lady starts talking) was beautifully and poetically written. It’s the last 13 seconds that pushes the envelope a bit too far to me.

      Your devil’s advocate argument is a great one. If people are really upset, why don’t those people who are both Nationwide customers and are upset by this cancel their insurance. You can’t have actual moral outrage without action…unless your goal is to be hypocritical, that is.

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      1. But isn’t being manipulative the very essence of adverts? No matter the subject, they are made to make you want to buy or believe certain things.

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        1. It absolutely is. I’m just surprised fewer people pointed that out. The American public is not very advertisement savvy, in spite of the saturation of said media.

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  5. I had no idea who or what Nationwide was as I just watched the ad and I felt that the ad was very on point. I don’t know how this is supposed to make you buy insurances as being insured doesn’t automatically prevent these deaths. I agree that the ad would have been more effective, had it been a government agency or big altruistic society but the information still stands. Make sure your kids are safe and that they get every opportunity to make it out of their toddler days alive. And to me, the message is more important than who ultimately created it.
    A couple of years ago there was a fantastic ad on German TV about freedom of press. I loved the ad but I still hate the newspaper because it is the worst kind of gotcha-journalism we have on a national scale.
    I don’t think that pointing out that too many children die unnecessary should be off limits. On the contrary. Make everyone aware just like we should do with so many other subjects.

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    1. I don’t think shining a harsh light on the reality of a dark topic should ever be off limits. Then again, America is the same country that flipped the fuck out when Janet Jackson’s pasty-covered nipple was shown on TV. We’re a nation filled with people afraid of reality.

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      1. I remember Nipplegate, I heard of it even before I knew what the Superbowl was and to this day, the reaction baffles me. I guess it’s a cultural thing. In Germany it wouldn’t have raised any outcry but in the US it was such a gigantic thing to happen. Especially when you consider that it’s not okay to show a nipple on TV but death and violence is shown every day regardless of the age of the audience. It makes me very rage-y.

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        1. America —

          Shoot, punch, or disembowel someone on TV? Awesome!

          Boobs? OMFG WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO OUR PRECIOUS SNOWFLAKE CHILDREN YOU HARLOT MONSTERS!?!??!?!?!one!??!?!!

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  6. ::sigh::

    I hated that commercial. With the fire of a thousand suns. After it aired, I promptly took to Twitter and ranted and retweeted the snarkiest tweets from other people I came across. I was still bitching under my breath about that commercial by the time the game was over.

    It wasn’t until later that night, when everyone had left and it was just me and the husband and the dogs, why I was so angry over a 30 second commercial. Truth is, I recently had a miscarriage. Watching that commercial reminded me of all the things that that child would never experience. I get that have a miscarriage isn’t in the same arena as losing a child to an accident, but it’s still losing a child, losing those moments you would have had. That commercial was a jar of salt in an incredibly raw wound.

    I agreed with the message they were trying to get across. I absolutely HATED HOW they chose to portray that message – I might be a bit biased or have clouded judgement, but it just felt incredibly manipulative.

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    1. First and foremost, sorry to hear about your miscarriage. I can certainly understand why the ad would be particular difficult for you in light of that happening.

      Like you said, the message the commercial was trying to convey wasn’t bad by itself. I do agree that Nationwide could have handled it far better than they did. Yet at the same time, there were hordes of people on Twitter saying that Nationwide shouldn’t have even addressed such a subject during the Super Bowl. That seems incredibly insensitive to me in its own right. I mean…why ignore that terrible things happen? Nationwide choosing not to talk about children dying would have been far more offensive to me than the way they chose to handle it.

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      1. I have zero problems with PSAs during the Super Bowl. I thought the domestic violence PSA that aired this year (with the 911 call for “pizza”) was tastefully done and got the message across in an appropriate manner. I just think HOW they did it was just plain awful. If I felt that horrible watching that ad, I can only imagine how parents who had lost children felt watching it.

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        1. The domestic violence commercial came off as far more tasteless to me. Granted, that’s because it was made by the NFL. Had it been made by anyone else, I think I would have found it wonderful. Since the NFL made it, the spot came across as hypocritical.

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