Here’s What Made BBDO’s Deceptively Touching ‘Judo Kid’ Story a Winner

Arc Award for Best Use of Short-Form Fiction (Film)

Growing up is hard. When you throw in unforeseen complications like those things we call "dreams," it gets even trickier.

On Father's Day last year, American Family Insurance, by way of a spot from its agency BBDO, embraced that reality with a touching mini-story with a twist called "Dad Insurance for Fearless Dreams."

"This spot takes us back to remember some of our first dreams, and the empowering feeling of possibility that comes from having others there to support and inspire us along the way," says Telisa Yancy, CMO of AFI.

In the ad, a young boy named Mateo is seen daydreaming in his bedroom while he watches videos of flamenco dancers. Mateo lives in a dangerous neighborhood. We watch his dad protect him as he walks past the neighborhood bullies. The truth is, Mateo doesn't walk much anywhere by himself.

With these dangers in mind, his dad one day gives him a box. But what Mateo hopes will be a flamenco outfit turns out to be a judo uniform. Though he's crushed, Mateo does as his father instructs, dutifully attending judo classes.

Of course, judo is not easy to learn. The spot follows Mateo through his classes, where he struggles at first, to bigger and bigger competitions. It's not exactly his favorite pastime, nor does it inspire much happiness in Mateo. But his dad is there to support him, every step of the way.

Then the story takes an unexpected turn. Mateo's dad knows well that judo isn't where his son's passions lie, and the reveal near the end of the spot explains why he put him through all this. Once Mateo has gained enough skills, strength and confidence from his judo classes and competitions, his dad presents him with yet another mystery box. This time, the box contains a flamenco outfit.

When we next see Mateo heading down the sidewalk, he's traveling all alone, his head held high. As the narrative explains, Mateo got some "dad insurance" so he could take care of himself when things got difficult and scary. Judo gave him the confidence to no longer worry about the bullies, while giving his father the peace of mind to allow him to follow his dreams.

"Demonstrating the relationship between insurance and dreams has been at the core of our messaging," says Julie Schaubroeck, associate vp of brand and consumer marketing at AFI. "This spot serves as an emotional demonstration of how a father's careful protection enabled his son to pursue his dream. It serves as a thoughtful and emotional metaphor for insurance."

"The spot also evokes feelings of pride and promise in the American Dream," adds Yancy. "The idea that with hard work, dedication, optimism and belief, we can achieve whatever we set our minds to."

Taking that idea one step further, Yancy points out that the instincts to work hard and to protect our own is "part of our DNA as a country, and that DNA is very strong at AFI."

The "Dad Insurance" spot, and other work BBDO New York has produced for the client, serves to remind consumers of certain core values. "'Dad Insurance' is part of a broader campaign that brings to light the importance of people's dreams and the role AFI has in inspiring, protecting and restoring them," explains Yancy.

Just one month after it was uploaded to YouTube this past June, the video surpassed 6 million views. It was one of the 10 most watched commercials on YouTube in June.

"Many of us are parents," says Susan Golkin, executive creative director at BBDO New York, "and our most important job is to protect our children and support them in any way possible to pursue their dreams and reach their goals.

"The goal of the film was to bring a palpable emotion to the intangible of insurance," Golkin adds. "The story was the perfect metaphor for what it means to have the right insurance behind you. The right support. The right protection. To be the best parent possible."

How often do you feel emotional when purchasing insurance, a fairly straightforward process of paperwork? Or perhaps thinking of the consequences your family will face without it is what gets you? Insurance is a luxury for many families, but most folks can identify with wanting to set their family up for success.

"We consider it a privilege to be able to help dreamers be fearless in pursuit of their dreams," says Yancy.

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2017 issue of Adweek magazine.
Click here to subscribe.