The Social Responsibility Bowl

The Social Responsibility Bowl

The worst call of Super Bowl XLIX wasn’t Pete Carroll’s decision to pass on the goal line. It was Nationwide’s call to run “Make Safe Happen.” At least that’s the buzz in the ad world.

Twitter was ablaze with outraged comments and snarky takes on their tagline. Post-game memes featured their “deceased” star stating, “I would have run Lynch, but I died.” Like Pete Carroll, Nationwide was doing some post-game justifications for their strategy. In a statement, the company said it had driven “thousands” to a safety-focused website and that “the sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance.” Conversation started.

In Nationwide’s defense, they were not the only ones trying to make a statement. I counted eight socially conscious ads that ran in this year’s broadcast. From Coca-Cola to Toyota to Nissan’s astonishingly mystifying “Cat’s in the Cradle” spot, everybody was pulling out their social responsibility banners.

Drawing from another famous folk anthem, “This Land Is Your Land,” Jeep portrayed “this land” as the world. It was a bold statement promoting the idea of a global community (which sparked an outrage of its own) and ended with an inferred green message to “tread lightly.” Then after flashing that this Jeep is America’s smallest and lightest SUV (a rather diminutive claim in itself), they displayed a seemingly disconnected URL that focuses on safe drinking water.

Some of the social responsibility messages out there seem like a pretty long walk to the brands behind them. What does Jeep have to do with water, Nissan with being a dad, or Coca-Cola with building a maligned teen’s self-esteem? Not much, and this disconnect is certainly not an issue to gloss over. It’s more effective to promote a cause connected to your brand – for example, the home run spot by Always, “#LikeAGirl,” which encompasses puberty, womanhood and real social issues.

Always presented a compelling spot whose believability was enhanced by their inherent connection to the cause. An issue that is aligned with your brand allows you to more authentically engage in it and communicate about it. It’s connected to your knowledge base, which makes you a more effective sponsor and allows for an easier connection in the minds of consumers.

That said, the real takeaway from this batch of Super Bowl ads is not how but what. Social responsibility is hot right now and advertisers are not shying away from making a statement. This trend is especially pertinent for marketers in the sustainability space. The concepts of green and social responsibility are increasingly found in company messaging (which is a good thing as long as it’s actually real), and this larger umbrella presents a new opportunity for meaningful environmental campaigns.

Critics may call some of these attempts misguided, but I’ll bet that Jeep knew what they were getting into with their globalism spot, and I also can’t help but think that Nationwide knew they would make someone’s bucket of wings less palatable. But as much as I disliked “Make Safe Happen,” I did wonder if my television could crush my two-year-old and had not thought about the fact that dishwashing detergent packets probably do look edible. What’s the takeaway? Maybe your brand can make more than money. Maybe it can make a difference.

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Posted on

February 5, 2015

About the Author

Matt Brass

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing all campaigns and collateral. With nearly two decades of marketing design under his belt, Matt has extensive experience in design, photography and videography, as well as blogging about the latest and greatest (or worst) ad campaigns out there. He leads our team on kayaking trips, too.

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