Posted by Alan Nazarelli ● Tue, Feb 03, 2015 @ 06:54 PM

Nationwide Super Bowl Ad-Brilliant strategy or marketing blunder?

13779211 3d market research word sphere on white backgroundBy now, if you are living in the social world, you have heard the overwhelming reaction to the Nationwide Mutual Insurance ad that aired on the Super bowl. The CMO of Nationwide indicated that they wanted to provoke a reaction to bring attention to the issue and the solutions their company has to prevent accidents (versus selling insurance). Executives at their agency, WPP's Ogilvy and Mather, point to the fact that the concepts has been tested with consumers in focus groups, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

So what went awry? Here are some thoughts:

As to the question posed in the title of this blog post, the answer depends on whether or not feelings engendered to Nationwide by the public are positive or negative as a result of airing the ad. Do consumers applaud the company for having the courage to raise this serious issue and in the process, break the mold of humorous Super bowl ads to drive home an important point? Or are consumers indignant that the company roused the emotions it did? Judging from the online comments, it seems to be the latter. Statements from company explaining their motives were well articulated and may serve to alleviate some of the damage. But the point of Super bowl ads is to raise awareness and generate positive feelings towards the advertiser's brand, not to engage in damage control. So to that extent, the company should be questioning the strategy, the investment and resultant outcomes.

Let’s spend the rest of our time here looking at the issue from the point of view of what we know well-advertising market research. 

1. "Best of the bunch" thinking. The agency indicates that alternative concepts were tested in focus groups and the selected concept tested "slightly more positive" than the alternative script according to the Wall Street Journal. Too often in marketing research, alternatives are presented and the best selected for execution. There is a problem with a lot of focus group research today. The sessions are often overloaded with discussion topics and moderators’ agendas over saturated with questions the agency and client want to ask. Discussion guides are circulated widely with every contributor putting in their two cents worth prior to the research event, with the result that there is not enough time to delve deeper into the consumer's psyche and draw out deep emotions that the concepts being presented may have evoked. Which is the purpose of the research and the moderator's job in the first place. 

2. Not enough degrees of separation in preference; The Wall Street Journal article indicates the concept selected tested only slightly more positive. Which in itself is revealing. Only a few degrees of separation in preference should have been a red flag to delve deeper. The conclusion should have been none of these concepts are completely suitable. At the very least, evocations of the Nationwide brand as a result of viewing the concept should have been explored further if none of the concepts pulls significantly ahead of the pack. Which may have led to a different concept being executed or a different execution of the same concept.

3. Desired states evoke better responses than focusing on the problem: Positive associations are associated with desired states. In this case, if "Boy" had lived to happily share the things he did get to do because he lived (thanks in part to Nationwide!), the negative connotations would not have been evoked. In addition, the ad would have been more in alignment with the tone of the Super bowl event and the other ads, which brings us to our next point.....

4. Context: The context of a sterile focus group room with a one way mirror is no proxy for the Super bowl, even if participants are told that the ad would air during the Super bowl. Too often, context is ignored by marketers because it is difficult to simulate in research settings. There is the possibility that the reaction to the ad would not have been as strong has it aired in another venue.

5. Interpretation bias: Lastly, how much separation was there between the agency creating the concepts and the testing process? Too often, the interpretation of the result is the issue. Those close to the creation of the concept often miss subtle clues in participant reactions. This can happen even if the company hired an independent moderator. How independent was the analysis process? How much latitude did the moderator have to create her own independent interpretation of the results?

Wall Street Journal article referenced in this blogpost:

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Topics: Advertising