Aflac isn't just about the duck. The company, which used the duck icon to take the company from marginal awareness to one of the best-known brands in the country, has also -- in the past two years -- used the duck to explain what it is that Aflac does.
Jeff Charney, SVP and CMO of Aflac, told a nearly full house at the OMMA Global conference in New York on Monday how the company used the humorous creative approach focused on the Rodney Dangerfield-like duck that quacks "Aflac" to deliver a concise message about the company's competitive offer.
The duck appeared for the first time in 1999 in a TV spot in which two guys on a park bench ponder why there are no insurance companies that actually pay for accidents. A duck keeps trying to get their attention, to no avail. "That was one of the first disruptive ads and it put us on the map. Forty-six commercials later, here's where we are," said Charney.
"Brand awareness has gone from 11% to 91% in fewer than four years. The commercials worked so well, but people were laughing so much they didn't know what Aflac was about." Charney said that a year ago, if someone asked 100 people on the streets of New York what Aflac is, only four would have known.
So, he explained, the company developed "You don't know Quack," a guerrilla campaign with cryptic billboards the company left up for 15 or 20 days. "Ultimately, we put a duck up there and finally the Aflac name," said Charney. The next phase put banners at workplaces. One, on a construction site explained: "If you are here working without Aflac, you don't know quack." And there was a new tag: "Get to know Quack."
Charney said the company exploited affiliate marketing programs with NASCAR driver Carl Edwards as spokesperson. Edwards appeared in cross-branded ESPN/Aflac ads touting NASCAR broadcasts but with lots of Aflac branding on Edwards' fire suit, helmet and car. The company also tied in with "Toy Story 3" and "UP!"
"We also had to make our online efforts a lot more interactive," he said. "We were behind the game getting onto Facebook, so we launched it with the duck, and within a few weeks, went to 172,000 fans," he said. "And, frankly, our Web site was not very good. We went from a boring Web site to something with dozens of original animations featuring the duck."
Charney said that new efforts are about explaining that Aflac pays cash for accidents or medical needs. One features chef Guy Fieri and the duck. The spot ran during football season and had Fieri cooking a picnic while the duck accidently eats a hot pepper and goes from one mishap to another while Fieri explains in 10 seconds or so what Aflac does.
The company is also focusing on Japan this year where, with new advertising featuring a hybrid of a cat and a duck; sales are up 195%. "We're an $18 billion company," said Charney, "so it's substantial."