Seattle Seahawks quarterback and former University of Wisconsin standout Russell Wilson will star in his first solo Super Bowl commercial for American Family Insurance — even as he plays in his first Super Bowl on Sunday, too.

Shot in late November at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, the 60-second ad was always meant to air on Super Bowl Sunday, but it carries extra cachet with second-season phenom Wilson and his Seahawks playing in the game.

It was an unplanned but welcome marketing coup, American Family advertising director Myles Romero said. “The stars and the moon just aligned,” Romero said. “The fact that the Seahawks ended up in the Super Bowl — you can’t plan those kinds of things.”

Wilson, 25, is the winningest quarterback through his first two seasons in NFL history, continuing a pattern of success he demonstrated while leading the Badgers to a Big Ten Conference title and Rose Bowl berth in his only year at UW in 2011. In the 2012 season, his first as a football pro, he took the Seahawks to the playoffs.

Wilson signed an endorsement contract with Madison-based American Family in January 2013 and shared his first Super Bowl ad for the company with two other athletes with local ties: women’s hockey star Jessie Vetter and golfer Steve Stricker. This year, Wilson had the cred to go solo.

“With his rise with the Seahawks and then ending up in the Super Bowl, we felt like he really personified what American Family stands for, in terms of the pursuit and achievement of dreams,” Romero said. “And he’s going to be on a national stage, so we felt it would make a lot of sense to borrow that equity and tell our brand message in a more powerful way.”

But Romero says Wilson would be American Family’s pick even if he was having a bad year. At just 5 feet 11 inches — small for a quarterback by today’s standards — his appeal as a scrappy and talented striver, with a reputed strong work ethic, earnest demeanor and never-say-quit professionalism, transcends any box score, Romero said.

“This guy is a great guy,” he said. “Both on the field and off the field, he really embodies what we believe in terms of what it means to pursue your dreams.”

Part of the insurer’s long-running American Dreams campaign, the Super Bowl ad features Wilson wrapping athletic tape around one forearm and then walking in near darkness from the stadium tunnel to a quiet, spotlit playing field.

His footsteps crunch on the cold grass, for a time the only sound audible, before he pauses to gaze onto rows of empty seats while singer/actor Harry Belafonte intones about the nature of dream fulfillment.

The camera soars for an all-encompassing aerial view and then pans to close-ups of Wilson’s eye in profile, and of his fingers touching the ground.

“Dreams fight — they persevere, they go on,” Belafonte says in a voice-over. “Dreams will always prevail.”

“The approach was less is more,” Romero said.

“The way I viewed (the ad) from the beginning is that it’s like a 60-second movie. It’s that kind of emotional appeal. It’s just beautifully shot.”

The spot will air regionally in 68 television markets in the 19 mostly Midwestern states where American Family does business, including seven times in Madison on Fox 47.

It’ll run four times pre-game between 1 and 5 p.m., once around kickoff, once during the game and once after.

Romero wouldn’t say how much American Family spent to produce the ad and run it on Super Bowl Sunday, traditionally the most expensive airtime in advertising. But he noted that airing the ad regionally, rather than nationally, was a cost-saver.

“By running the ad (only) in select markets where we do business, we can make our investment go much further,” Romero said.

“This approach costs significantly less, while still allowing us to reach millions of viewers. We’ll also draw on social media to continue the conversation, using the hashtag #longlivedreams in Twitter and Facebook posts.”

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to remove a reference to a policy by Fox Broadcasting Company not to run the Russell Wilson ads on satellite TV providers Dish and DirecTV. On Thursday, an American Family spokesperson said Fox had changed its policy and the commercials will be broadcast by the satellite TV providers.]


Karen Rivedal is the education beat reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.