rees1The picture you see to the left is a picture of my little boy, Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht.  He will never grow up to experience any of life’s great adventures. He will never kiss a girl.  He will never ride a bike or fly a hang glider.  My little boy will never throw a baseball or catch a football.  Why?  Because he was taken from us two years ago in a tragic accident that was a result of a simple miscommunication.  My little “Rees” will never do any of those things I mentioned, but that doesn’t mean his brief life wont make a difference and change the world…

By now I am sure that many of you have seen the Nationwide Insurance commercial depicting a dead boy recounting all the things that he will never get to do that aired during the SuperBowl yesterday and have your own opinions about whether or not it was tasteful or not.  To be perfectly honest, it was extremely traumatic to my family and I.  Why?  simply because it hit a nerve – and I am sure that was the intent all along: To strike a nerve.  The problem lies in the fact that for grieving parents and siblings, that nerve is raw and exposed and even a slight brush against it causes distress.  When that nerve is struck forcefully, and with purpose, the pain is overwhelming…

I have written before, several times, that parents who have lost a child need no reminder of their loss; they live with it every second of every day.  The problem I, and many others, had with the commercial from Nationwide was not the message that parents need to be vigilant about household safety.  Indeed, that message is so incredibly important I simply cannot stress it enough with words alone.  Parents do need to be made aware of the seemingly benign dangers that lurk around their homes.  To be honest, my wife and I were naive about many of the facets of drowning and drowning prevention.  Things I have learned in the wake of the loss of Rees may have prevented this tragedy to begin with.  We have shared what we learned in the aftermath with others and even forged a relationship with the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force (www.lidptf.org) to help educate parents and children about the importance of water safety.  Education about the dangers in our homes is the only thing that can potentially prevent the accidental death of a child. 

Nationwide Insurance attempted to convey that message to the over 100 million people watching the game last night.  It appears, like us, most of the viewing audience was put off or hurt by the ad in question.  A small number of parents reached out to me on our facebook page (facebook.com/reesspechtlife) to express that while the commercial was difficult to watch – and maybe over the top, it did serve an important role in opening up people’s minds to the dangers to their children that lurk within their homes.  I do not take issue with Nationwide opening up meaningful discourse about child safety.  What I take umbrage with is them sensationalizing it for a shock factor that makes people lose site of the actual issue…

I really feel as though Nationwide lost a tremendous opportunity to get people talking about child safety.  Instead, I find that on the morning after, people are debating the appropriateness of the spot and not the message itself.  It seems like in this day and age the only way to get people’s attention is to be abrasive and “edgy”.  Our society is littered with pop-stars and celebrities who pull outrageous stunts to get attention at all costs – attention that rewards them monetarily.  Television is littered with ‘Reality” tv that portrays people on the fringe of society and depicts them as though they are the norm, all in the name of garnering the viewership of people who advertisers can sell their wares to.

The ad in question seems culled from that same school of thought.  I have no doubt that Nationwide Insurance wants to help protect families.  On the other hand, I am acutely aware that as a for-profit corporation they have a bottom line to adhere to.  No company forks out 4.5 million dollars for an advertisement without at least some thought as to how it will effect their bottom line.  Am I to believe that Nationwide made this ad thinking that everyone who watched it would divine the higher meaning to the ad and nothing more?  There had to be discussions about this advertisement’s effect on their profits, and I just cannot believe that they would have approved it if they thought it would have the deleterious impact it appears to be having.

I do believe that those who conceived this “Make Safe Happen” campaign did so with the grandest of intentions.  What concerns me is that appears that nowhere in the process did anyone stop and think about what effect this ad for that campaign would have on families who have already suffered this loss.  Were there any conscientious objectors who said “maybe this isn’t the best way to get this important message across?”?  What may be even more frightening is that there were indeed many people who objected, who in turn were overruled by the zealousness of a few, powerful individuals.  I don’t know which idea is more disturbing…

There are some who completely disagree with my personal take on this issue.  They have argued that if the ad serves to help even one family save a child then it was worth it.  How can I argue with that?  It is true, this ad may very well have saved some lives.  The problem is, a more thoughtful, less traumatic ad could have done the same and would not have caused the distraction from the message that this particular ad did.  For every child they may have saved, there were children and families that their delivery of the message traumatized.  My wife, whose smiles are something I cherish now more than ever, was devastated by the ad.  Our pre-commercial jocularity was replaced with remorse and pain.

To me, the real damage was that Nationwide blindsided families that are suffering EVERY day with this pain during a time when our families are together celebrating a national pastime. What should have been joyous occasion was ruined by their poorly executed ad that could have gotten the same message across without being so traumatizing to families that are all too aware of what they are missing out on.  The ends do not justify the means.

So what does Nationwide do now?  I have a feeling they will only double-down on defending their ad.  According to Yahoo News (link) Their CMO, Matt Jauchius, issued a pre-made defense that stated:

The purpose of the ad is to, in a way, stage an intervention on this issue. We’re serious about it and we wanted the ad to reflect that. The question was, what level of intervention did we want to stage? If you go funny or lighthearted with this topic, it might offend people, but beyond that it might not be effective in breaking through and creating awareness of this problem. We chose a more serious tone precisely because it will be so different than most commercials during the Super Bowl. We went that way to create awareness in consumers’ minds [emphasis added] that this is the number one killer of children in the US. Most people don’t know that.”   (Yahoo News)

I find it interesting that they were afraid that taking a light-hearted approach would offend people, but they apparently did not think the way they presented it would.  The unfortunate irony that they were so afraid to offend people that they really offended isn’t lost on me.  Irony aside, my biggest issue is that he acknowledges that this was being made for consumers, not parents.  Consumers?  Really?  Consumers of what? – oh yeah, the insurance you just happen to sell that could at least provide a financial band-aid to your family if you are unlucky enough to be one of the unfortunate few parents who have suffered this tragedy.

I guess what it really comes down to is that overall I find the ad to be disingenuous in its overall aim.  If Nationwide were ONLY interested in promoting safety they could always find a non-profit organization like the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force and support them in their efforts.  The $4.5 million they could give to those agencies that are truly about only serving the greater good could go a lot further to save a lot more lives than the divisive campaign they have engineered.  Nationwide can’t take back what they did last night, but they can make it better.  An apology for their insensitivity to the countless parents who lost children to accidents who were subjected to that ad would be a nice start.  A better notion?  Support foundations that are already educating parents on the dangers that lurk in their homes.

The ReesSpecht Life Foundation is a relatively small foundation that serves to enrich our community by cultivating kindness in children and adults alike.  In addition to our goal of making this world a kinder place, we have partnered with the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force to help fund their education programs to teach parents and children the importance of water safety.  This spring we will be unveiling our joint effort called “ReesSpecht the Water” that will look to raise awareness about water safety all over Long Island and beyond.  I invite Nationwide Insurance, and any other corporation that claims to be about promoting safety, to put their money where it truly makes a difference and support groups like these.

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My little boy will never grow up.  I will never get to hold him again.  I know what I am missing out on – but I also know that it is possible to take the worst that life can throw at you and turn it into something good.  Nationwide Insurance made a misstep with their advertisement, but it is within their reach to make something better from that.  Let’s make this world a safer place for children, one little piece at a time…

7 thoughts on “An ounce of prevention…

  1. Hi,
    I met you guys today at Racestars’ Resource Fair. I read your book to my 6 year old twin daughters, Holly and Kaylee, and they loved it! Most of all Kaylee! Holly wants you to include her in your book next year!

    I just wanted to share how touched we are by your story, your book, and your mission. Please feel free to contact me – we would love to help you any way we can!

    Beautiful job on your book AND your mission!

    Best Regards,
    Kathleen Grieve
    Missing Piece Awareness

  2. This commercial must have been so painful, and was in such poor taste. I am sure it was so hurtful to many families dealing with loss.
    This insurance company has accomplished what they wanted, they created a huge reaction, and free advertising every time someone writes about them. I knew of your family from NY, I have followed you on your journey from the beginning. You have all worked so hard to make this world a better place in honor of your precious son, and created a chain of kindness throughout the country. This company will have to deal with the aftermath of the pain this commercial has caused, and hopefully people will not use their services. I won’t even mention their name, they do not deserve to be linked to Reese’s name in any way, shape or form. God Bless You and your family.

  3. You have done a fantastic job of conveying what many of us thought about the Nationwide commercial. And, you were able to do it with class and without malice. I’m so sorry for the pain you must have felt watching the ad. I have a tremendous amount of ” Reespecht” for you and your family and the Foundaion you have started. Channeling your pain in a positive way will help so many others. Thank,you.

  4. Thank you for this.

    There are so many ways they could have broadcast the message about safety in the home without “rubbing salt in the wound” of those of us who have lost a child.

    Promoting safety is one thing. Doing it by essentially telling all of us who are bereaved by the death of our son or daughter that we “should have been more careful”, with the implication that if only Nationwide had been “by our side” our child would still be alive . . .

    They could have had a safety expert come in and show new parents how to safety proof their home. Tell them to get down on the child’s level and inspect things. Stuff like that.

    Instead, they just reminded every parent whose child died by accident that they “should” have prevented it. How heartless can a company be? Rather than helping, they caused a lot of bereaved parents even more grief.

    And reminding us of the things we think about every day? Things like how I’ll never get to see Jack play sports or win an award or fall in love and get married or meet my grandchildren or any of the ten thousand things that punch me in the gut when I’m trying to go to sleep at night?

    That was a special touch.

    Thanks, Nationwide Insurance. You’ve helped so much.

    ==========================

    It occurs to me that I can be glad about one thing regarding the Nationwide Insurance commercial yesterday: my daughters did not see it.

    I cannot imagine their reaction to a commercial reminding them that they will never see their brother again or be there with him as he grows up. They would have been heartbroken.

    My wife and I would have spent days trying to undo the damage their seeing that spot would have caused.

    • I’m so sorry about your son. I lost my first grandchild at the age of 3, her name was Sophia. We lost her 2 years ago. Sophia had CP, but got RSV and pneumonia and passed away in less than 2 weeks. We didn’t know what hit us. Still surreal….
      I was actually having fun when that commercial showed, it blew us all away. I wrote a letter to Nationwide to express the pain it caused. Your post was written so well, I hope you wrote to them as well. I did see your post on Compassionate friends too……
      Thankyou for all the good you are doing……

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