Why A Duck? Aflac Uses Smart Marketing

The Marx Brothers would probably approve.

In the year 2000 the Aflac insurance company decided to make themselves more visible to the world, and to differentiate themselves in the sea of competition. After all, insurance companies are pretty much all alike, aren’t they?
And they’re pretty boring, when you think about it, even though the subject matter is important. In fact, there’s a joke here in my house, all about insurance. My husband Bill, a personal-injury attorney, knows all about insurance, because he used to be the media spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. He knows about insurance from A to Z, and it’s quite impressive. The subject of insurance, however, tends to be a snore. So when I can’t get to sleep, I will frequently chuckle and beg Bill, “Please tell me about insurance.” Before you know it, the subject puts me in deep slumber.

So, insurance companies have their work cut out for them, as they try to make themselves stand out. Some companies have been very creative and very successful. You’ve got Flo, the Progressive Insurance girl, who is extraordinarily popular and even has her own Flo Facebook page, along with bobble-headed Flo dolls and T-shirts. And of course, there’s Geico Auto Insurance and the British-speaking gecko who is also highly recognizeable.

Aflac, which handles health and life insurance, had oceans of options – and they chose the duck, which is the very definition of wacky marketing. But today, apparently nine out of 10 people know about Aflac thanks to its quacking duck. It’s a very important reminder to all of us, small and big businesses alike, about how important brand marketing is. As a brand marketing expert, and a marketing consultant for small business, I know all about it. Small companies should take their cue from the big companies, and develop and mastermind their own “golden arches.” There’s no reason a small company can’t have its own signature tag line, spokesperson and corporate logo.

Apparently Japan comprises three-quarters of Aflac’s earnings. Aflac had to respond after the country was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. And along with that, they had to respond after their professional duck spokesperson, comedian Gilbert Gottfried, made jokes about Japan’s earthquake on Twitter. He was promptly fired and guess what? Their decision generated good publicity, and more than 11,000 eager applicants tried to become the new voice of the duck. That fact speaks for itself, about how successful the duck marketing has been.

Aflac’s website even has a duck store. A young cancer patient named Monica designed the 2012 holiday duck. And when you buy a holiday duck, your donation is targeted to a participating pediatric cancer hospital near you. That’s a great example of Aflac’s civic marketing as well.

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