As a child of the 80s, I grew up humming: "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony...I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company," so it's no surprise my favorite Superbowl ad in 2015 was the Coca-Cola #MakeItHappy commercial. In true Coca-Cola fashion, the ad had a catchy musical track and was focused on people spreading happiness. Coke's original slogan in 1886 was about their unique comfort: "Drink Coca-Cola and Enjoy It." (A complete list of slogans available here.)
But unlike its 1971 version, the 2015 Coca-Cola ad showed individuals feeling alone with technology in the modern age, a much talked about trend in popular media. Cyber bullying and internet trolling were at the forefront of the ad -- a vulnerable teenage boy reading a hate text on his smartphone; a man watching an argument on the web; a woman at a bus stop tearing up after reading something hurtful on her device. Coca-Cola is spilled figuratively through the network fibers, and as it imaginatively reaches these individuals, so does comfort and joy. The woman on the bus bench laughs at an internet meme that suddenly appears - of a baby saying 'we got this' - and I can relate. I smile. She smiles.
"Show me love" sings the lyrics --- with the words "The world is what we make it" -- a positive reminder that we can empower each other with kindness -- a message that Coca-Cola has been sending for over a century. (Ironic what they're finding sugar does to our bodies, but that's another subject.) Coke's message and challenge links us emotionally to their brand - in our conscious and sub-conscious minds we think of sharing joy and happiness when we think of sharing Coca-Cola with others or with ourselves.
Nationwide insurance takes a different, more risky, tactic in their second Superbowl ad: they too focus on a delicate situation - the early death of a child by a preventable accident. But instead of spending time on fixing the situation and spinning it to the positive like Coke has done (which provides some comfort and relief on the behalf of the viewer), Nationwide instills a sense of fear and danger and then leaves it there. The viewer is left in the cold and is encouraged to visit www.makesafehappen.com as the next action to find a solution and continue the dialogue.
It is difficult to control negativity in advertising; it's often recommended to stay positive in brand messaging, i.e. to write "lightly sweetened" instead of "not sugary." I believe that this is why commentators across the internet have called the Nationwide ad "morbid" and a "debbie downer"; a bit PSA. Without showing the warm embrace of a parent protecting their kids or a child smiling with relief, Nationwide seems to lecture us about consequences. Too hard hitting? What did you think?