Because the Super Bowl is both the premier marketing venue for advertisers and a major family event, commercial breaks have become a minefield parents must navigate.
"I think there’s some emotions that might be drummed up by a [Super Bowl] commercial that are really positive and feel good to both parents and kids [like a lost puppy finding his way back] and then there are emotions where you remember them because of what they made you feel in the pit of your stomach [like when a child who doesn’t get to grow up]," David Anderson, senior director of the ADHD and Disruptive Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, says in a phone interview.
Rather than trying to protect children – by either avoiding commercials or turning the volume down – families might want to consider the benefits of helping kids evolve their emotional coping skills after they have seen something that invokes a deep emotional response, he says.
“How a parent chooses to response always depends on the age of the child seeing the commercial. You can’t shield your kids from everything forever. Check-in with kids to find out how they’re feeling and validate their response, says Anderson. "Help mediate the perspective by helping kids contextualize what they saw. Help filter these ads through the lens of a moral perspective.”
“People are still talking about the Mexican avocado ad because it was a shock at the end that was so funny,” Anderson says. But the Nationwide Insurance ad portraying the tragic death of a child "reminds us of something that we only want to have to think of in really, really dark times...My reaction to that ad was one of intense sadness."
“So, I think that Nationwide just aired the most depressing commercial I’ve ever seen during a Super Bowl, or actually, maybe, period,” says Juliun Starks in his YouTube reaction video.
Nationwide responded on its website to the backlash with the following statement, reports NBC:
“Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don’t know that. Nationwide ran an ad during the Super Bowl that started a fierce conversation. 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. We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions. In fact, thousands of people visited MakeSafeHappen.com, a new website to help educate parents and caregivers with information and resources in an effort to make their homes safer and avoid a potential injury or death. Nationwide has been working with experts for more than 60 years to make homes safer. While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.”
“Did you notice how the McDonald’s “Payin’ with love” ad never showed any food,” says Jesse Bragg, media director for the watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, based in Boston. “Coke’s “Make it Happy” didn’t show people drinking their product. Instead, both companies chose to sell feelings and not their products because those products have been deemed as 'unhealthy' by many families. So in order to win hearts and minds they aren’t selling their products. Instead they’re substituting them with loving your mother or your child or enjoying life and bringing back positivity in general.”
[Editor's note: An earlier version misquoted Dr. Anderson.]