Like a low-grade Grinch ruining Christmas, all the commercials were made available for viewing weeks before they aired in the big game.
"I'm going to I wrap your presents and put them under the tree.
"But before I do that, let me show them to you.
"WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THERE ARE NO SURPRISES."
Of course, the actual game ended up being a surprise.
Nobody expects exciting football in a Super Bowl.
Conversely, with all the hype and glory that now surrounds Super Bowl advertising, it's just become a big yawn.
By the time the game happens, who cares?
But some data-crunching actuary somewhere has probably shown advertisers how they can get much more traction and buzz out of their $1-million commercial and their $4-million single-spot buy by getting it all out there on the interwebs well in advance.
HELLO, OVERSATURATION AND APATHY!
But if you happen to have an axe to grind, you're in luck.
Then you get to come crashing down on GoDaddy's puppy satire.
Or Nick Offerman's brutally, anti-gluten stance.
Speaking personally, it does seem just a bit over-the-top that the anti-puppy-mill contingent found such extreme offense in GoDaddy's spot.
And the fact that GoDaddy pulled it as quickly as they did has 54% of voters in an AdAge poll speculating that it was always part of their plan--despite denials from the GoDaddy CEO.
As for Offerman, if you didn't see his 2-minute, 12-second "America Start Your Engines" promo for NASCAR on NBC, watch it. It's an extraordinary piece of network promo production.
IT'S ALSO A PERFECT FIT FOR OFFERMAN'S NO-NONSENSE, REAL-MAN PERSONA
The entire message is about the real-world benefits of indulging NASCAR.
The message is surprisingly smart.
Yet one sentence sent 18,000 people to an online petition to pull the spot.
"When [America's] idea of danger is eating gluten, there's trouble afoot."
NBC, of course, didn't oblige the petitioners.
And is probably thrilled for the PR.
But overall, it's a big ol' yawn of a commercial experience these days.
UNTIL SOMEONE THROWS AN UNDERINFLATED FOOTBALL IN THE PUNCHBOWL
Then, there's actually something we get to talk about.
A big, whopping mistake we can all look at and say, "Wow, who let THAT happen?"
And we can all use it as yet another shining example of the idiotic mistakes to avoid in our own marketing.
Yes, the road to advertising hell is paved with do-gooder intentions.
In this case, we're talking about the spot you may have seen.
A young boy talking about all the whimsical things he won't get to do in his life.
LIKE LEARNING TO FLY
Or getting cooties.
Or seeing the world with his best friend.
Or getting married.
All because he died in a preventable accident that involved drowning in an overfilled bathtub, or having a big-screen TV fall on him, or eating something he found under the kitchen sink.
There's a smorgasbord of doom waiting in that child's house, and our protagonist succumbed to one or all of them--
Courtesy of Nationwide Insurance.
"SORRY TO PEE ALL OVER YOUR FUN TIME AND 5-LAYER DIP, AMERICA!"
"But death happens!"
Unless, of course, you happened to notice the proportionately pea-sized intended payoff to Nationwide's message.
"Make safe happen."
Oh, and there's a brief shot of a mother carrying a little girl who presumably didn't die eating the cleaning product from under the sink and having the TV fall on her after drowning in the tub.
People who saw it are angry.
With good reason.
This kind of message mishap is so basic and so preventable.
IT'S JUST NOT POSSIBLE TO TRUMP VIVID AND TRAGIC DEATH WITH AN AFTERTHOUGHT SALES MESSAGE
Usually, we get to discuss this problem in the context of a local radio commercial.
Example: a well-intentioned copywriter creating an actualities-based message lets a mortgage broker say something like, "I helped Jane get her mortgage. She was a single mother with three small children and was undergoing treatment for cancer."
The C word.
Mom With Cancer trumps anything you're ever going to say about selling people mortgages.
Mortgages are everyday financial transactions that are sometimes challenging.
CANCER LEADS TO DEATH AND ORPHANS
You can't put potential death and orphans in your mortgage advertising and expect to have the desired result.
There will be no phone calls from people wanting to refinance.
There could be hate mail.
In the case of Nationwide, they've made the same baffling miscalculation on a nationwide, multimillion dollar scale.
They've filled a commercial with pathos and whimsy.
The filmmaking is really good.
The the child says he died.
Everyone who was on the edge of their seat reveling in the pathos and whimsy is saying, "What?!"
DO A GOOGLE SEARCH ABOUT THIS COMMERCIAL
America is using words like "tragic," "morbid," "angry" and "buzzkill."
Nationwide is, of course, defending their choice.
In a press statement issued yesterday on their website, the official party line is this:
"We want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to all of us -- the safety and well being [sic] of our children. We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions."
Forgetting that "wellbeing" is either one word or a hyphenate, the reactions in parties and social media around the nation were lots of middle fingers held up in the direction of Nationwide.
Don't misunderstand me. There's nothing wrong with the idea of "making safe happen."
BUT IT HAS TO HAPPEN CORRECTLY
It has to happen in a way that makes the solution as powerful as the problem.
It has to engage the core customer (presumably mom) in a way that doesn't make her feel duped, but continues drawing her in.
And this advertising message, like so many others, has never been finished.
"Here's our problem! Boy, is it graphic! Boy, does it make you feel! You laugh! You cry! You want to write angry petitions about non-existent puppy mills and Nick Offerman's gluten!
"Oh, and maybe you want to buy what we're selling. Even though its portrayal makes you feel nothing."
ALL DECISIONS ARE MADE EMOTIONALLY!
This is not rocket science.
Well, it IS neuroscience, but you don't need a degree.
You just need to understand that you, as an advertiser, are a salesman.
And if you piss off your prospect, your prospect is likely to give you the finger and walk away.
In the case of Nationwide's extraordinary filmmaking, if you don't illustrate the solution of "making safe happen" with the same vivid, evocative potency as you made death happen, what you've done is just make Shinola happen.
You have to draw the prospect in and then close the deal with a potently illustrated better reality.
OTHERWISE, YOU'VE CREATED CUSTOMER REPELLENT
"Oh, but we're being talked about! Which is so much better than not being talked about!"
Thank you, Oscar Wilde Ogilvy.
But you're wrong.
Yes, the buzz is out there--but for the wrong reason.
It's there because millions were spent on lazy thinking.
If someone had spent any time working on how to finish the job as powerfully as it was started, the conversation would still happen--productively.
TO QUOTE NICK OFFERMAN, "THERE'S TROUBLE AFOOT"
Yes, Nationwide will be talked about.
But wouldn't it have been better if the message was galvanizing?
If the message made people who don't even have kids flock to that website?
Say I don't have kids. Say I live in a house with concrete floors. I have lye and sulfuric acid in open containers under the kitchen sink. Edged weapons are lying around on the coffee table. Here in my office as I pen this screed, maybe I'm surrounded by semi-automatic weapons that are fully loaded, safety off.
If you can make me want to log on to your child safety website, you've accomplished something impressive.
Had the message delivered enough persuasive power to accomplish that, everyone at my Super Bowl party would've raised a glass.
Sadly, all they raised was middle fingers.
We all now question the company's judgment, and will always have a lingering bad feeling in the back of our minds whenever we see the company logo.
Congratulations on becoming the Seattle Seahawks of the 2015 Super Bowl commercials.