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Nationwide Has A Hit And A Miss With Super Bowl Ads


The New England Patriots may have won the Super Bowl in an eye-popping fourth-quarter play, but advertisers have been in competition for the attention of the game's 100 million-plus viewers for weeks. Companies shelled out an estimated $4.5 million per 30-second slot, but many still offered sneak peeks of their TV ads online. And here to talk more about who got their money's worth is Jason Lynch. He's a contributor to Quartz and AdWeek. Welcome to the program.


CORNISH: So we mentioned it's been the trend for a few years now for the ads to be released ahead of time, so we had an idea of what was coming. But describe the ad you think ended up winning the night.

LYNCH: Well, for me, my favorite ad was one of two ads that Nationwide did. It was called "Invisible Mindy Kaling." The set up for the ad was that Mindy Kaling had been treated like she was invisible for a lot of her life. She thought maybe she was invisible. And she proceeded to indulge her every whim, then the bubble bursts when she tried to kiss Matt Damon, who was the surprise A-list cameo.


MINDY KALING: You don't want to kiss just to make sure?

MATT DAMON: Absolutely not.

KALING: No, I didn't want to kiss you either, Matt Damon.

LYNCH: And it was really funny. It was just a perfect Super Bowl ad. You had the A-lister, Matt Damon. You had a lot of humor. It was a great message for Nationwide. Great ad all around.

CORNISH: And the flipside is a lot darker, right?

LYNCH: Yes, Nationwide managed to have both the best and the worst Super Bowl ad this year. A couple minutes after they unveiled this great Mindy Kaling ad, they had this follow-up ad, which was called "The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up." So you have this adorable kid who starts talking about how he'll never learn to ride a bike or get cooties. And then all of a sudden he says...


UNIDENTIFIED BOY: I couldn't grow up because I died from an accident.

LYNCH: And jaws dropped all over the country. My kids, who were next to me, all of a sudden had to say, Daddy, did that little boy just drown in a tub? Conversations you were not expecting to have during Super Bowl Sunday. I still don't understand what they were thinking with that ad.

CORNISH: This does reflect what seemed like the trend of the night - right? - in terms of ads being bittersweet, right?

LYNCH: Yes, yeah.

CORNISH: At best. I mean, some years the ads are over-the-top sexy, some - or sexist.

LYNCH: Yeah.

CORNISH: Other years it's gross-out humor. What was the tone that you got?

LYNCH: Nationwide was certainly, I think, the most depressing of the many ads, but there were a lot of them that were kind of almost fighting tooth and nail to be just as depressing. I mean, I thought the Nissan's "With Dad" ad that talked about an absentee dad who was busy making money and wasn't there for his kid. You had Coca-Cola's spot that talked about online bullying, which was somehow cured by spilling coke onto a computer. You had an ad about toenail fungus. I called it the feel-bad Super Bowl of my lifetime. It was a real downer.

CORNISH: So you've written today that the magic of Super Bowl ads is gone forever in part because so many of the ads are released ahead of time. Why do you think this makes such a big difference in the end?

LYNCH: One of the best parts about Super Bowl ads was being surprised the day of with an ad you had never seen before. And that surprise element is really gone now because so many ads are released ahead of time. In the frenzy leading up to Super Bowl, these companies know that they'll get media attention if they, quote, unquote, "leak their Super Bowl ad." I do miss discovery aspect of it, and I think that's something we're just unfortunately not going to get back.

CORNISH: That's Jason Lynch. He is a contributor to Quartz and AdWeek. Jason, thanks so much.

LYNCH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.