Sanjaya Malakar Spotted Right By Our Cubicle

'American Idol' Alum Does Rounds for Nationwide

By Published on .

Sanjaya bones up on the biz.
Sanjaya bones up on the biz. Credit: Hoag Levin
It isn't every day you see a celebrity walking about Ad Age's Manhattan headquarters, so suffice it to say we were amped when "American Idol" alum Sanjaya Malakar popped in this morning.

The wacky-haired Malakar, who was infamously tossed off during season six of the show, is the latest face of Nationwide Insurance's "Life Comes at You Fast" ad campaign -- following in the footsteps of other 15-second-of-famers such as Kevin Federline, MC Hammer and Fabio.

On the eve of his commercial debut, the 18-year-old reality-TV star turned insurance spokesman chatted with us about the spot he filmed in India back in May, which comes as part of a push by the Nationwide to market its auto and home insurance and financial planning tools to South Asians in the U.S.

In the commercial, which breaks today, a singing Sanjaya patiently awaits the wisdom of a guru, who imparts that the most important thing in life is a "good retirement plan and a haircut."

"To actually film there was an honor. ... It was like being in a Bollywood film," said Mr. Malakar, who recently relocated to New York from Seattle and is working on a new album and a book deal.

"Sanjaya represents a lot of different things to America," said Nationwide VP-Advertising and Brand Management Steven Schreibman, who also tagged along. "He represents youth, he represents coming from behind, represents talent, he represents freshness and, for Nationwide Insurance, he was the perfect spokesperson to talk about retiring and planning for the future." Hahaha!! Not sure he meant it like that, but anyway, we can bet on seeing more celeb spokespeople from the company in the future.

"Nationwide Insurance has leveraged celebrities a lot in the past. ... What it's done for us is given us some topicality, and we found that a company that really has low unaided awareness has been able to generate a tremendous amount of talk value."

We're told the 60-second Sanjaya spot will air across the nation on South Asian cable networks. Still, like other commercials before it in the 4-year-old campaign, it's sure to make the YouTube rounds. Nationwide, while no shabby spender (according to TNS Media Intelligence, it spent upward of $180 million on domestic measured media last year), employs a strategy focused on more than just ad buys, basically launching massive PR attacks around each of its celebrity ads, which, hmm ... I guess we've bought into.

You can see a behind-the-scenes look at Sanjaya's Nationwide shoot here. The insurer on its website plans to add fun features like a widget where visitors can plug their face onto Sanjaya's hair and body.

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