When companies face an unexpected crisis, it usually comes from the outside –– a plane crashes, a rogue employee posts something obnoxious on YouTube, hackers wreak havoc with confidential files.
But what happens when a company initiates the crisis itself?
Nationwide Insurance chose Super Bowl Sunday to broadcast a controversial commercial about child safety. It explained why:
“Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don’t know that. 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,”
It added: “We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions.” That’s putting it mildly. These were some of the responses on Twitter:
“Thank you, Nationwide, for the most horrible Super Bowl ad ever.”
“The SB and theoretical dead kids don’t mix.”
“Nothing says super bowl party like dead kids”
“Horrible commercial…to sell your company on the death of children is unspeakable.”
Not all the reaction was negative. Some echoed this tweet:
An actual realistic commercial. At least this one sends a message and isn’t mindless nonsense like most other commercials.
Nationwide clearly takes the message of child safety seriously, and consciously risked a public-relations disaster by dropping a serious message into a carnival atmosphere. Time will tell if its gamble to draw attention to an unpleasant message few wanted to hear will make a difference.
Any company contemplating a self-induced crisis should consider several questions:
- Is your audience ready for this dose of medicine? Will the sense of bad taste inhibit responsive contemplation of the message?
- Is the setting appropriate? This year’s Super Bowl audience was huge, exceeding last year’s record of more than 112 million viewers. But was its message amenable, that is, were people prepared to hear it?
- Are you ready for social media blow-back from your audience? Millions of football fans didn’t want to think about dead children during the second quarter of the game. Nationwide, which has worked for more than 60 years to make homes safer, was prepared for the fan reaction on its MakeSafeHappen.com website.
- Have you calculated the risk? Preparations must calculate the gains and risks, and should include a lot of “what-happens-if” scenario planning. Budweiser’s lost puppy was warm and fuzzy; the thought of a child’s death was not. Was it worth it?
In the end, we applaud Nationwide for taking the risk to put an important message in front of viewers. We hope they are well prepared for the crisis they themselves initiated in a good cause.