And here we are, at the last of my Superbowl Commercials posts. We’re talking about the worst of the worst of this year’s Superbowl Commercials and while there are only a couple for a change, they are really doozies. 

I’ll start with the least terrible of the two, to ease you into the cringing. 

T-Mobile: #KimsDataStash

I can hear my mom yelling about "those Kardashian people!" already. 

So, why do I hate this commercial, besides the fact that Kim Kardashian became famous for doing absolutely nothing? 

To start with, it’s not funny. Yes, I understand, it’s supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating use of the star to talk about how mobile customers with other companies are losing tons of unused data each month. 

But it hits a little too close to reality. I know she has her brands and her child and her work, but this commercial is pretty representative of who Kim Kardashian is – self-involved, narcissistic, and out of touch with reality. It irritates me because T-Mobile is paying endorsement money to someone who has plenty of money already, to talk about how she’s so out of our league. Why on earth would I want to use the same product she does? It’s clear she can’t relate to me, and I can’t relate to her.

The lesson for lawyers? Watch your relatability. Not only do your clients want to know, like, and trust you, they want to believe that you understand them and how they feel. 

If you tell them you do, but you can’t show them how you truly empathize, it rings false and will leave a bad taste in their mouths – I promise. 

For example, we have an insolvency lawyer in our Network who chose his car carefully – he could afford a much fancier car, but he recognized that driving up to a company that he was taking over as an insolvency administrator in a VERY fancy car and telling them that he understood their problems would immediately make him the enemy. It’s that kind of impression that you need to be constantly reviewing and considering. 

And now…for the worst of the worst. 

Nationwide: Make Safe Happen

For your sakes, I forced myself to watch this again, but it’s a truly upsetting commercial. 

It starts out beautifully – it catches your attention, because you see this lovely child talking about things he won’t be able to do, and you’re wondering where the commercial will go. It seems to be related to imagination in some way, as he travels along with his buddy the labrador. 

But then you find out that he’s not able to do things like learn to ride a bike, have his first kiss, learn to fly or get married because he was killed in a household accident. It’s a shocking turn of events. 

Nationwide, after quite significant backlash, said that they only wanted to start a dialogue about this, and if you look at the commercial for it’s pure advertising value and not it’s placement, it’s actually fairly effective.  I have one caveat with that – Nationwide is an insurance company, and having insurance would NOT prevent any of these accidents from happening. However, they are clearly starting an initiative (as seen at the end of the commercial if you are not still in shock) to work together with parents to prevent such accidents, and that is something I wholeheartedly applaud.


To show a commercial such as this, with no warning during an event such as the Superbowl is terribly insensitive. Although I’m sure Nationwide was hoping to tap into one of the largest television audiences of the year, I don’t think they considered that those watching include: 

  • Children, including very young children (the commercial aired fairly early on in the evening)
  • Parents who have lost children

In my book, this commercial is something that is better used as part of an online campaign, and one that comes with a viewing warning. Social media is so ubiquitous these days that Nationwide could have easily started the conversation they were looking for online without creating the drama that they did with the commercial. 

Did they get people talking with their Superbowl ad? Yes, but not in a way that motivates people to want to purchase their insurance or even find out what this preventative initiative is about. They’ve done some serious harm to their brand. 

And that’s a real shame, since they also had quite a good Superbowl commercial earlier in the night. 

The lesson for lawyers? Know your audience and your context. We talk a lot here at Zen about being focused on your audience, so I won’t delve into that too deeply. 

But context is also important – the Superbowl is an upbeat, happy event. Although I was quite happy with many of the dramatic commercials that aired, the general consensus was that there weren’t enough funny ones. People use the game as an excuse to get together, eat junk food and party, and this commercial put an immediate damper on people’s fun times and in many cases, meant parents had to have some serious conversations with their children that they never saw coming. 

All I kept picturing were those parents who have recently lost children who probably thought of watching the Superbowl as a safe thing to do, who were suddenly thrust right back into their grief. 

So with all communications – be it email, a marketing piece, a presentation, etc., know your audience, but also know the context. 

  • If you’re speaking at an event: what have the other speakers addressed? What kinds of activities have the participants been engaged in? What has the organization been focused on lately? 
  • If you’re writing an article: What other articles are included in the publication? Do they have an editorial calendar that you can look at? Is there a theme that they’re focused on for the coming year? 
  • If you’ve just joined an organization: take a look at their website before attending any events to get a feel for how they operate, and maybe give the administrators a call to see what their priorities are for the year. 
  • If you’re using a new social media tool: Sit back and watch how people engage before jumping in. Watch what language they use to talk about things, get a sense of how much engagement versus promotion there is, etc. 

We don’t have to be doing our own advertising to learn lessons from the good, the bad and the ugly of consumer advertising! What lessons did you learn from this year’s Superbowl Commercials, and which were your favorites and most hated?