The "Dead Boy," first made famous in Nationwide's widely derided Super Bowl ad 2015, lives again in a new riff from Stephen Colbert that spoofs all the commercial tropes of the Big Game.
On Wednesday, the host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert debuted what he called "The Most Emotionally Manipulative Super Bowl Ad Ever."
"The Super Bowl commercials are not afraid to pull on the nation's heartstrings to move their products," said Colbert, noting spots of reunited families, impressive athletes and unlikely animal friendships. "And how could anyone forget the actual Super Bowl ad, the Super Bowl of sad Super Bowl ads—the one where the kid was actually dead the whole time?"
The comedian was referencing a controversial spot from insurer Nationwide, in which a young boy recounts all the things he will never get to do. "I'll never learn to fly or travel the world with my best friend," he says in the spot, before explaining he could not do such things because he died in a preventable accident. The commercial was blasted on social media at the time.
Colbert went on to debut his own Super Bowl spot, one that goes "all in on emotional manipulation." The narrated spot has it all—a soldier dog who returns to his family, a wheelchair-bound penguin that likes to watch "Toy Story 3," a grandmother who counts beans for every day her husband is dead, and an astronaut who blows up while texting and driving a Mars rover. Spoiler alert—at the end of the spot, it is revealed that all the characters are actually dead.
Of course, highlighting Super Bowl tropes is a familiar strategy and one that earned P&G accolades last year for its Tide series "It's a Tide Ad," in which "Stranger Things" star David Harbour riffed on every Super Bowl cliché imaginable.
A spokesman from Nationwide did not return a request for comment about Colbert's new spoof. The chief marketing officer behind the "Dead Boy" commercial, who was a nine-year veteran of the brand, left his post shortly after the ad aired; he was replaced by Terrance Williams, the current chief marketing officer and president of emerging businesses at the Columbus, Ohio-based company. Nationwide still works with Ogilvy, which created the Super Bowl spot four years ago.