The Advertising Duck That Roared

Nov 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Adam Armbruster

Special to TelevisionWeek

Occasionally we come across a client that will not consider television advertising because its business is service-based and it feels that it may not be able to adequately tell the story of their business in just 30 seconds.

However, television has no limitations; all types of products and services can be successfully marketed on TV.

One of the best examples of a service that has been successfully marketed on television is the Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac health insurance company.

I spoke with Al Johnson, second VP and director of branding and advertising at Aflac, about how Aflac markets its service on television.

TelevisionWeek: First off, where did the idea for the Aflac duck begin?

Al Johnson: Prior to the duck campaign, Aflac was the only insurer of its kind that advertised nationally, but our name recognition remained low. Recognizing the need for an innovative advertising campaign that would create brand recognition among consumers, Aflac CEO Dan Amos challenged several ad agencies to produce a creative brand awareness campaign that would resonate among television viewers. Dan made a promise to select the campaign idea that would score highest among consumers in preliminary testing, regardless of the concept.

One campaign idea featured popular actor Ray Romano of “Everybody Loves Raymond” in a classroom of small children, with the commercial ending with building blocks that spelled “Aflac.” Dan was encouraged to go with this spot because it tested 50 percent higher than previous Aflac commercials.

The idea for the duck campaign emerged when members of the creative team for the Kaplan Thaler Group out of New York were having trouble pronouncing the company name. After repeatedly saying “Aflac,” someone recognized that it sounded similar to a duck’s quack. And the rest is advertising history.

Preliminary tests results from the Aflac duck campaign scored at an astounding 125 percent better than the company’s existing television ads.

Dan was encouraged to go with the Ray Romano campaign because it tested well, and it appeared to be a safer bet than a duck making fun of the company’s name. But to the dismay of many experts, he stuck to his original commitment of going with the commercial that tested the highest and opted for the duck campaign.

It was a risk that paid off well. Today, the Aflac duck is a fan favorite across the country because of the commercials’ irreverent humor, and because the duck represents many of us who are often frustrated from not having our voices heard. Many people can relate to the duck.

TVWeek: What has changed for Aflac since you began this television campaign?

Mr. Johnson: Following its introduction, the Aflac duck commercials have become one of the most successful campaigns in advertising history, catapulting Aflac’s brand recognition from 12 percent to more than 90 percent.

The Aflac duck has not only increased name awareness for the company, but its popularity has created a better opportunity for our agents to get to their foot in the door with prospective clients.

Immediately following the debut of the campaign during CNN’s 32-hour millennium special, compliments poured in from people across the country who loved the commercial introducing the persistent duck. We received tons of requests for product information with some even requesting taped copies of the commercial.

TVWeek: How is the campaign going? Is it successful?

Mr. Johnson: Less than five short years after the campaign debuted, the Aflac duck was enshrined on Madison Avenue’s Advertising Walk of Fame as one of the country’s favorite advertising icons, beating out veterans such as Ronald McDonald and the Energizer Bunny.

The duck became a pop culture icon, causing Aflac to be named one of the top 25 Power Brands as named by Forbes. Additionally, the campaign has received numerous advertising honors including a Gold Effie and a couple of Midas Awards, and the 23rd commercial, titled “Helping Out,” was named Best-Liked New Ad by AdAge.com.

The duck is not only a brand icon, he is a celebrity. His star status was sealed in 2004, when he appeared in the film “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” The alliance between Paramount Pictures and Aflac marks the first-ever marketing partnership between an insurance carrier and a film studio.

In December 2004, Aflac unveiled its newly redesigned logo that now incorporates the Aflac duck front and center. The announcement of the new logo was a part of the company’s brand-definition campaign, designed to increase consumer knowledge of Aflac’s products. The new logo also serves as a reminder of the success of the duck campaign.

Emotional Triggers

Ducks selling insurance? Imagine the first Aflac meeting when a marketing manager proposed the use of a talking duck! But looking back, at the actual decision, it was brilliant.

All of this being said, how do we begin to translate a client service message into a successful television commercial?

To help a company create a successful service-driven campaign, we first need to understand the emotional triggers that will motivate a consumer to seek out and buy from a service-based business. These emotional triggers are the deep emotional motivators that make us buy from certain companies and not from others.

Positioning intangible services takes a little more thought than a typical retail campaign. Significant planning is required since these services always have a predictable consumer buying window. Consumers typically follow a predictable pattern (or consumer buying window) when they are buying a service. When we understand this pattern and plan accordingly, it helps us better focus our media dollars when and where customers are most likely to be receptive to our television message.

Also, when in the planning stages of the campaign, consider the emotional benefits to the customer of the service being advertised. This could be as simple as one emotional benefit or it could list as high as a dozen. Then assign “emotional” words in the script to reflect the customer’s emotional benefit to buying your service.

Now you have a short list of the “real” benefits of the advertised service.

Imagine a consumer researching health insurance companies. Who will stand out among such a vast sea of alternatives? Clearly, it’s the insurance company that has already established a memorable presence in the consumer’s mind.

So next time you encounter a client that feels its product is not really well suited for television, take the client through the Aflac success story. Using this methodology, you can identify the early planning steps needed to launch a successful television marketing campaign.

Adam Armbruster is a partner in the Red Bank, N.J.-based retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster and Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or at 941-928-7192.