Yes, we are B2B technology marketing guys. But we can’t help but notice when consumer marketers make bold moves designed to help their brands break through and break out with strategic positioning.

Nationwide certainly succeeded at generating buzz yesterday with “Make Safe Happen,” their controversial Super Bowl ad. In addition to being viewed by 114.4 Million viewers during the game, the spot has generated over 2 Million views on YouTube, and became a trending topic on Twitter.

No matter what you think about choosing this commercial to air during the Super Bowl, if Nationwide’s objective was to break through to consumers, they played better than Marshawn Lynch.

But there are plenty of ways to break through without risking customer alienation. So what were they thinking?

To be truly successful, promotional advertising must activate an existing brand, and set it apart in the minds of consumers. Through that lens, Nationwide’s ad may just turn out over time to be a brilliant positioning tactic.

Nationwide’s slogan nicely encapsulates their positioning: Nationwide Is On Your Side. In the minds of consumers, Nationwide wants to be the carrier that cares, the insurance company that stands by them when they are at their most vulnerable. When they are choosing coverage, it appears Nationwide’s positioning strategy is to make consumers think, “which provider will be there for me when it counts?”

We often tell our clients that positioning must succeed on seven dimensions to be “great.” Among other things, great positioning:

Motivates the target buyer – speaks to the buyer who makes the decisions and controls the budget.
Is inspirational – links directly to a buyer’s aspiration or pain, and shows a better way.

  • “Owns” an urgent problem – establishes a unique link to a problem that buyers must solve now.
  • Creates a theme, or a rally cry – is simple, memorable, and motivates repetition by the right people.
  • Clarifies the secret sauce – explains the “how” behind the promise a brand is making.

Nationwide’s positioning succeeds in all of these – especially in setting the buying criteria in a way that clarifies Nationwide’s brand and secret sauce. For marketers like us, the ability to accomplish many positioning objectives and encapsulate them into a four-word slogan that our kids remember is a thing of beauty. It is evidence of a unique corporate ability to communicate – and activate – a brand in the minds of buyers (and their influencers).

So, back to Make Safe Happen. Yes, it was depressing. Maybe it was out of place. For those who have suffered the kind of loss that most of us can not imagine, it may have even been out of line.

But sometimes we have to scratch our nails on the board to be heard – and remembered.

Long after the Twitter hubbub dies down, we believe that where Make Safe Happen will be vindicated – or not – will be in how well it reinforces the core of Nationwide’s positioning strategy. As Nationwide said after the game, “The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance…we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.” What better way to demonstrate that Nationwide is “on our side” as parents? The more the dialogue persists, the stronger the reinforcement will be.

We think the marketers and brand strategists at Nationwide might not be as dumb as the Twitterverse would have us believe.

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *