1932 Wynnton Road
Columbus, Georgia 31999
Telephone: (706) 323-3431
Fax: (706) 324-6330
Web site: www.aflac.com
Aflac, Inc., was a major insurance company based in Columbus, Georgia. In 2000 its top product was its cancer-expense coverage, which the company had invented in 1958. Though profitable, Aflac suffered from poor brand recognition; only 12 percent of consumers remembered the company, in part because it had such an unusual name. In response, Aflac wanted to expand its business by improving consumer's awareness of the brand. It also wanted to target 35- to 54-year-old consumers.
In 1999 the company hired a new advertising agency, the Kaplan Thaler Group, to improve its name recognition. The New York-based agency was known for its "Big Bang" approach to advertising: the belief that campaigns succeeded most when they altered consumers' views about the brand advertised. To accomplish this for Aflac, the agency created a new spokescharacter, the Aflac Duck. Voiced by comedian and actor Gilbert Gottfried, the Duck appeared in spots that featured consumers having trouble remembering the company's name. The Duck attempted to remedy this by "quacking" the answer: "Aflac." The lighthearted spots were broadcast on prime-time network TV and during broadcasts of sporting events such as Major League Baseball games. Aflac spent $35 million on the campaign.
The Duck was a major success. According to USA Today's Ad Track poll, it was one of the most popular spots of 2000. Brand recognition shot up to more than 70 percent and later topped 90 percent. Sales improved 28 percent, a result in part of improved name recognition. The company's accident/disability insurance took off, outselling the company's cancer-expense plans for the first time. The Duck became a cultural icon and continued as the company's advertising focal point through 2004. That year the Duck became one of the first characters to appear on the Advertising Walk of Fame in New York City.
The American Family Life Assurance Company (later called Aflac) was founded as an international holding company in 1955 by brothers John, Paul, and Bill Amos. In 1958 it became one of the first companies in the world to offer insurance against cancer. It expanded its offerings significantly in the 1980s, and by the late 1990s it sold a variety of policies, from dental care to short-term disability to hospital-confinement indemnity and life insurance. In 1990 the company adopted the acronym "AFLAC" as its official name.
By 2000 Aflac was insuring more than 40 million people. The company excelled at providing policies that helped pay out-of-pocket expenses not covered by
someone's primary insurer. This was also known as "supplemental insurance." Aflac was respected in the industry, and in January 2000 Fortune included it in its list of the 100 best companies to work for in the United States. Because of the Fortune 500 company's solid core business and steady growth, in 1999 the National Association of Investors Corporation named Aflac one of its favorite stocks. Aflac was especially adept at reaching out to small businesses. It tailored certain plans specifically for this market, with a sales force of about 60,000 that helped reach small businesses face-to-face. It was also the largest provider of guaranteed-renewable insurance in the United States. The company thrived overseas as well, becoming the largest provider of individual insurance policies in Japan. Aflac's primary business strategy revolved around expanding its product line and focusing on gaining clients through businesses.
Aflac was especially eager to connect with consumers in the 35- to 54-year-old age group and to boost sales of accident and disability insurance. While the company's cancer-expense insurance had always been the backbone of its sales, there was not much room left for growth in that sector. In order for Aflac to grow, it needed to expand its other businesses. Because accident/liability insurance was a major part of the industry, Aflac felt that that was the area it most needed to expand. The company also wanted to sell more of its supplemental insurance.
The company especially wanted to reach consumers with families. Aflac had a good reputation, but its difficult-to-remember name impeded its efforts to attract new customers. Insurance was a buyer's market. Many companies offered similar coverage policies, and it was important to stand out. Aflac suffered from terrible brand recognition: only about 12 percent of consumers remembered the brand's name. This limited the company's new sales leads.
Aflac's primary competition came from other accident-and health-insurance brands, such as Citizens Financial Corp., Conseco, Inc., and Amerisafe, Inc. All offered services comparable to Aflac's. There were a number of companies competing in the sector, making Aflac's low brand recognition a serious liability. Aflac issued 98 percent of its coverage on a payroll-deduction basis. This meant that, while the company's sales force and its reputation were able to help it sell its products to cost-conscious corporations, it had a hard time drawing sales leads outside of the corporate sphere. Aflac believed that it needed to change its image with consumers to survive in a tough industry.
Aflac contracted the ad agency Kaplan Thaler Group (KTG), a division of Bcom3 based in New York City, to help the brand break through to consumers. This was the first major campaign conducted by KTG on Aflac's behalf. The company earmarked $35 million for the campaign. KTG was run by cofounders Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. They had developed an approach to advertising that they called the "Big Bang." A "Big Bang" campaign altered people's perceptions of a brand or product. Aflac, which suffered from poor brand recognition, decided that this was a good approach for the company.
When the Kaplan Thaler Group created the Aflac Duck, it chose Gilbert Gottfried to provide the Duck's voice. Gottfried was no stranger to voice-over work, having provided the voice of the parrot Iago in the classic 1992 Disney animated film Aladdin. A longtime stand-up comic, Gottfried first rose to prominence in 1975 when he appeared on the NBC variety show Saturday Night Live. He later acted in a string of diverse films, including Beverly Hills Cop 2, Problem Child, and Look Who's Talking Too.
Never a leading man, Gottfried nonetheless drew a solid fan base with his offbeat humor and distinctive voice. As a stand-up comedian he was often known for his bawdy humor, which was perhaps most evident in his performance of an old vaudeville joke shown in the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats. But his nasal, high-pitched voice also resonated in children's animated films, in which he...