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(Reuters) - Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company is considering whether or not to drop a TV advertisement featuring a dead boy speaking to viewers after a backlash on social media as soon as the commercial about child safety aired during Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast.
Nationwide spokesman Joe Case said on Monday that some of the reaction "was stronger than we anticipated" and "we'll gauge whether or not to run the ad more."
The ad, Case said, was intended to start a conversation around child safety and accidents in the home, part of the insurer's Make Safe Happen campaign. "We care. We have a heart," he said.
Viewers quickly criticized the company on Twitter after seeing the ad of a boy narrating a list of milestones in life he would never achieve, such as learning to ride a bike, ending: "I couldn't grow up, because I died from an accident."
Comedian Patton Oswalt, for example, sent a number of tweets making fun of the ad. "The second I see a kid in one of these commercials I immediately assume they're going to die. Thanks, Nationwide! #SuperBowl" he wrote in one.
Other tweets played on the "Nationwide is on your side" jingle, with one variant by riley_fox reading “Nationwide, your kid has died.”
Some called the ad everything from grim to depressing to a loser for the insurance company.
Among the groups who previewed or consulted on the ad, company spokesman Case said, were family members who themselves had lost children.
"We did test it with a wide variety of audiences, and based on that feedback we adjusted the tone of the ad through the creative process," he said. Case declined to say how the ad's tone was changed.
On Sunday, the company set up a command center ready to respond on social media to that ad and to another, more lighthearted commercial featuring actress Mindy Kaling.
"When the ad aired on Sunday evening we knew there were going to be strong reactions both ways, and we were prepared for that," Case said.
The Super Bowl is one of the most-watched stages for advertisements in the United States. Companies paid up to a record $4.5 million for 30 seconds during Sunday's game, won 28-24 by the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks on Comcast Corp's NBC network, and seen by an estimated 114.4 million viewers, the most-watched telecast in U.S. TV history.
Reporting by Luciana Lopez; additional reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York and Tanya Agrawal in Bangalore; Editing by Grant McCool