Aflac recently launched its first creative work under new Chief Brand & Communications Officer Catherine Hernandez-Blades, who was promoted to the position in October. Developed in partnership with Publicis Seattle, “Not That Kind” shows how Aflac is there when you need it most.
Hernandez-Blades oversees brand strategy, advertising, communications and the company’s corporate social responsibility program. She shares her vision for the future with Marketing Daily.
Q: Why did you decide to continue working with Publicis Seattle after going through a full agency review?
A: We know that our creative work historically has had a significant impact on our business, so we wanted to ensure that as trends continue to evolve and emerge, we have the most innovative partner to help us deliver our messages in meaningful, relevant ways. We carefully tested each campaign concept submitted by applicants, and while they were all strong, we felt that Publicis was most aligned with our goals and mission of maintaining our position as the industry leader.
Q. What are Aflac’s strengths from a branding standpoint?
A. Aflac has consistently ranked high in brand awareness, thanks to our incredible Aflac Duck. For the past 18 years, we have leveraged the popularity of the Aflac duck to grow our brand and connect with key audiences. With every campaign, we offer consumers a consistent, integrated brand message regardless of when or where they intersect with our company — be it consumer advertising, sponsorship activations or corporate social responsibility initiatives. And, of course, the Aflac Duck is integrated into our entire marketing ecosystem to help create moments of joy while providing information for consumers at every touchpoint along the way.
Q. What does Aflac offer consumers that its competitors don’t?
A. Since the founding of our company, we have kept our priorities straight by reminding ourselves every day of the promises we have made to our policyholders: the promise to be there for them when they need it most. For more than 60 years, Aflac has provided a strong and lasting safety net for families of all ages. This is evident in our competitive product offerings as well as initiatives like One Day Pay, ensuring policyholders receive cash benefits as soon as possible.
Q. What are Aflac’s weaknesses or challenges?
A. Challenges often provide the best opportunities for progress. For instance, the voluntary insurance industry has low market penetration, which means that there is great opportunity to expand the market and increase sales. It is a truism of business that companies must evolve to succeed. Market conditions fluctuate, customer needs and expectations change, and the technologies available to create and deliver new products advance. Our business is no different.
Q. Do you have anything planned to address them? Or is there anything ongoing to address them?
A. Our messaging going forward is designed to highlight the value of our products. We know from internal research that those who use our products have a very high regard for them and for Aflac. We need to make that real to those who haven’t actually filed a claim and do it consistently through advertising, digital and earned media, as well as all other channels at our disposal. Aflac will continue to evolve and provide customers with what they need by offering relevant products and services – strategically enhanced, expanded and aligned with existing and new sales channels, meeting the customer where, when and how they want to be met.
Q. Do you ever worry about the duck getting old with people? I assume he still is testing well in focus groups? What do people say about him?
A. The Aflac Duck continues to be a focal point for the Aflac marketing strategy. He will continue to showcase his funny side, but with a greater focus on serving others by demonstrating generous and friendly attributes — someone who is always there to help policyholders in their time of need. Since our brand awareness is already high, we want our marketing to take on a more educational role, with the Aflac Duck’s help, of course. This works best when the Aflac Duck is fully engaged as a participant in activities and serves as someone there to help. We do know he is highly relatable, and I don’t know of any employee that hasn’t been quacked at as soon as their place of employment is revealed.
It is also telling that the Aflac Duck has nearly 1 million followers on social media! Fans engage with his entertaining content on a daily basis, sharing stories of their own, and praising him and the Aflac brand for how we are positively impacting their lives. The Aflac Duck is truly a household name and a brand icon. In short, the Aflac Duck is here to stay and just like the rest of us, will continue to evolve with the times, staying true to his values.
Q. What is your long-term vision for the brand?
A. Our marketing focus is to leverage all opportunities at our disposal, including the Aflac Duck, to accomplish three things: drive growth and shareholder value, educate consumers on the importance of a financial safety net in times of need, and serve as a reminder that doing good for others is the right thing to do. Drive growth and shareholder value – We do not do one-offs. We look holistically at our entire marketing and communications ecosystem to ensure we are pulling every lever available for each campaign or activation to reach the largest number of members of our target audiences in a cost-effective manner.