I know a good spot when I SMELL one.

No, no, no.  This is not about some crazy new scratch ‘n sniff technology.  It’s about the latest television commercial for Nationwide Insurance, simply called “Baby.”  It comes from the agency McKinney (Durham, NC & NYC.) I like this spot a lot.  And you’ll see why in a minute.

Here’s the spot:

While this spot may not win a Gold Lion, it is perfectly and productively creative.  It also embraces virtually all of the classic conventions of good, solid advertising. I’ve developed a simple acronym/meme called SMELL to outline the five primary points of enumerating the creative approach through this process.  [Not the most elegant thing in the world, but hey, it works.]

This spot is Simple.
It’s a very concise idea.  The man in this spot thinks of his brand new Mustang as his “baby.”  He cleans it, treats it with care, makes sure it doesn’t get hurt.  Then when something does go wrong, he gets it fixed, and both he and baby are happy again.  No fancy tricks (except the enlarged baby effect,) no special lighting, no explosions.  Just a straight metaphor idea, simply executed.

Even the copy (voiced over by Julia Roberts) is simple:

“In the Nation, we know how you feel about your car.
So when coverage really counts, count on Nationwide Insurance.

Because what’s precious to you is precious to us.
Just another way we put members first.  Because we don’t have shareholders.

Join the Nation.”

Note:  I don’t quite get the “because we don’t have shareholders” bit, but it must have been a mandatory in the creative brief.  Oh well.

This spot is Memorable.
It’s hard to get this idea out of your head.  Once you see the car equated with “baby,” you get it, and there’s no need to explain it any further. Plus, because there’s a clear narrative thread (man loves car, man protects car, man hits fire hydrant with car, man gets car fixed and all is right again,) it’s easy to remember the story in context of the baby image.  That happy baby playing with a tire in the auto shop is super cute!  (And super cute is super memorable.)

In addition, the jingled slogan “Nationwide is on your side” is also memorable.  The line, developed by Ogilvy, Benson & Mather (now Ogilvy Worldwide,) in 1964, was sung to the distinctive 7-note jingle in 1973 and hasn’t changed since.  Consistency aids memorability.

This spot is Emotional.
One of the most important aspects of marketing is that it appeals to the emotions.  Brands create bonds on the emotional level, not the intellectual.  We start by desiring them, then come to trust them, and in some cases, we become deeply bonded to them.  That’s not rational – it’s pure feeling.

By humanizing the car (and with a cute little baby, no less,) this spot plays to emotions.  We see it happy, then we see it sad (after the accident,) then we see it happy again.  An emotional up-and-down within 30 seconds.

This spot is Likeable.
One of the key aspects of this spot is that it’s easy to like.  The main character is likeable, (he waves to the neighbor while washing his baby,) the baby (unless you’re an alien) provides likeability, they get Ms. Likeable herself Julia Roberts to do the voiceover, and they use the classic “Love is Strange” song from Mickey and Sylvia (from 1956) to provide the soundtrack:  a wailing wooing and cooing “baaaaaa-by!”  I like that.  It fits.

To lend some fairness to the conversation, the spot is NOT for everyone.  There are a host of dissenting opinions on this spot, (some people find it creepy, or weird, or just plain silly,) and I found a thread that sums it up here: http://www.commercialsihate.com/aahits-a-giant-babynationwide-stop_topic16598.html

This spot is Lasting.
Perhaps the most important thing about this spot is that it has a timeless quality to it.  This spot could have been released 10, or 20 or even 30 years ago.  I suspect that it will be relevant in 10 or 20 or 30 years from now.  That’s because there’s no “inside joke” being used, no “markers” of the current era (except for maybe the model year of the car itself,) and no descriptors in the copy that would be out of place years from now.

Because the ad taps into universal truths (babies are cute, we love our cars, sometimes we get into accidents, etc.) it has a quality about it that allows it to be relevant for a long, long time.

On second thought, maybe it should win a Gold Lion?