Jennifer Hudson makes a street musician's dream come true for American Family Insurance

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BBDO New York continues a long-running and popular campaign by bringing back Super Bowl ad star.

When Alex Guthrie set his guitar case down in Atlanta’s Woodruff Park and began to busk, he thought he’d finally had his big break. The musician was starring in a short film for American Family Insurance.

After three or four warm-up takes, he began to sing once more. Only this time another voice joined in—Jennifer Hudson. A shocked Guthrie’s eyes widened, but he regained his composure and the two finish singing Bill Withers’ 1977 hit "Lovely Day."

"The first thing he said when he was done was, ‘Can I call my mom?’" said Susan Golkin, executive creative director at BBDO New York, the ad agency that filmed the meeting for American Family’s latest campaign. "He had no idea. Later, he said he was thinking the extra was getting very close to him. ‘And she’s singing. And she sings like Jennifer Hudson. And she is Jennifer Hudson!’"

Guthrie’s surprise duet is featured in a new TV spot from BBDO for American Family that debuted today, part of the insurance company’s ongoing "Insure Carefully, Dream Fearlessly" campaign. Hudson appeared in a similar role—inspiring normal people with big dreams— during the brand’s 2015 regional Super Bowl spot, also by BBDO New York.

The agency’s challenge has been to distinguish the brand from the big players in the space—Geico, State Farm, Allstate, Esurance—companies with plenty of name recognition and their own creative campaigns. "American Family’s business philosophy is different," Golkin said.

"It’s not ‘price and time,’ which most of their competitors are—and do—brilliantly, absolutely brilliantly. But that’s their niche," she said. "I think the other companies are more about who to call when something happens, and AFI prides themselves on being the one to call to make things happen."

It’s a positioning that makes sense for a self-described "challenger brand," a regional insurance company operating in 19 states. "The competition is always pushing to make people laugh," said Dwayne Maddox, advertising director at American Family. "They’re commoditizing the product, and we’ve chosen to break away from that narrative and focus on our role as a brand that inspires, protects and restores dreams."

Hudson herself embodies that focus, Maddox says. "She’s a perfect example of a person who strived for a dream and achieved it because of others." Hudson was eliminated on "American Idol" in 2004 after becoming a fan favorite but broke back into the spotlight two years later with an Academy Award-winning performance in the film "Dreamgirls."

In addition to the Guthrie spot, Hudson also appears in a spot from Elite Media, surprising the Morehouse College Glee Club, which began running online Monday.

The Guthrie spot is BBDO’s 5th piece of work for American Family since it began working with the brand for the Super Bowl in 2015. Several spots feature other "brand ambassadors," like Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant. It’s likely the athletes will make repeat appearances in the campaign, just as Hudson has, Maddox said.

Players for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons will also appear this Saturday at an event in Atlanta, joining AFI employees and community members to cheer kids on a red carpet, before a series of inspriational and educational activities.

The "Insure Carefully, Dream Fearlessly" campaign has been running for four years, but besides longevity, it’s notable for the committed emphasis on diversity in each of the spots, which always feature families of color or multiracial and multiethnic gatherings. That intentional focus "really speaks to the unifying force that you see in the pursuit of dreams," Maddox said. "It shows that it doesn’t belong to one type of person, but that it really is a universal pursuit that all of us have at some level."