Good intentions gone wrong.

That’s my take on the Super Bowl commercial that everyone loves to hate from Nationwide. If you have to release a statement the day after the Super Bowl explaining your ad (not apologizing for it, mind you), you’ve messed up.

Nationwide’s website says the company’s intention was “to start a conversation.” Well, congratulations. People are really talking! How did they get it so wrong? I can sum it up with three Cs:

• Context
• Credibility
• Creative approach

Context. It’s the Super Bowl. No one expects – or wants – to talk about children passing away. Today’s marketers want to be “disruptive.” But in this case, the subject matter is so serious, it was more disturbing than disruptive. If this ad had aired during the 11 p.m. news, when serious matters were already being discussed, it would have been better received. In the middle of football frenzy, not so much.

Credibility. There simply is no way for a life insurance company to talk about preventing childhood deaths without everyone’s thoughts turning to, well, life insurance. It just doesn’t feel authentic.

Creative approach. Let’s say Nationwide really did want to raise the issue (because parents just don’t think enough about the safety of their kids!), didn’t anyone question the sensibility – or the sensitivity – of having a child speak to us from the afterlife? Why not a positive approach teaching us how to protect our kids? For example: “Anywhere from 60,000 – 100,000 children are accidentally poisoned each year. Use child locks and protect the ones you love the most. For more ways to protect our kids, visit MakeSafeHappen.com.”

Nationwide did succeed at one thing: they got everyone talking. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong conversation. Instead of talking about child safety, we’re talking about how Nationwide will recover from the crisis. They will, but they have work to do. Here are my recommendations.

• Number one, apologize. Especially to all the viewing parents who actually lost a child. The last thing they expected to see during the Super Bowl was a reminder of their horrific grief.
• Second, begin a campaign, a real campaign, to educate parents about safety. That includes PSAs, working with hospitals and children’s associations, media tours, partnerships and educational training.
• Third, change the conversation. This isn’t one of those bet-the-company crises, but it will take time and real effort to change the dialogue.