MBA IIBMS ANSWER SHEETS – What makes AFLAC ads so effective? Is it something more than their entertainment value? If so, what else contributes to their success
Case VI – How Advertising Works
If It Walks Like the Aflac Duck
You’ve probably never heard of the American Family life Assurance Co., nor likely to be familiar with its primary service: supplemental workplace medical insurance, a type of insurance that is used by people to help cover the many loopholes and deductibles in their primary insurance coverage. Then again, if you are like 90 percent of U.S. consumers, maybe you have heard of the company. In its advertising it calls itself “AFLAC.”
The four-year AFLAC campaign is the work of Linda Kaplan Thaler, owner of the New York agency that bears her name. Thaler’s ads are not known for their subtlety. Among her credits are the Toy’s R Us jingle “I don’t want to grow up,” and the successful campaign for Clairol Herbal Essences, featuring on “orgasmic” hair-washing experience. The Herbal Essences ads strike some as funny, others as quite possibly offensive, but sales of the product have skyrocketed to almost $700 million a year.
In many ways Thaler’s ads hearken back to the 1960s, when it was common to feature “sex, schmaltz, chirpy jingles and ‘talking’ babies and animals,” as the New York Time’s advertising columnist Stewart Elliott puts it. Industry insiders have been known to snipe at Thaler’s work, and few would describe her campaigns as “edgy.” But as Maurice Levy, CEO of the giant advertising company Publicis, observes, “There are people who do advertising for what I call the advertising for the consumer. She is doing advertising mush more for the consumer.” Thaler herself notes, “We’re doing our job when we find ways to get people to buy things.”
Thaler’s AFLAC ads, by almost any measure, are her best. Almost all feature a white duck desperately screaming “AFLAC” at people who need supplemental insurance. Unfortunately, the duck’s audience never quite seems to hear him. Most of the ads contain a fair amount of slapstick, usually at the expense of the duck, whose exasperated-sounding voice originates with former Saturday Night Live cast member Gilbert Gottfried. “He’s got the right answer but nobody is listening, and that’s a situation that resonates with people,” says Kathleen Spencer, director of AFLAC’s corporate communications. “There’s also just something inherently comical about a duck.”
The campaign has been enormously successful. Since the ads first began running, brand name awareness has increased from 15 percent to 90 percent. Over the same period year-to-year sales increases have almost doubled. Dan Amos, CEO for AFLAC, believes that “our name recognition with our advertising campaign to truly help our company.” In 2003 Ad Age named the commercial featuring the duck and the Amazing Kreskin (who hypnotizes a man into thinking he is a chicken) the most-recalled spot in America.
But what makes the AFLAC campaign truly remarkable is how little it has cost the company. The duck has a higher Q score (a measure of a character’s familiarity and appeal) than both Ronald McDonald and the Energizer Bunny, but whereas Energizer has spent almost a billion dollars over 15 years on advertising, and McDonald’s spends almost $700 million every year, AFLAC’s ad budget is only $45 million a year. There is no denying that Thaler’s work for AFLAC is a triumph of both effectiveness and value.
- Some viewers don’t like the AFLAC ads. Can an ad still accomplish its intended purposes if people find it annoying?
- The AFLAC campaign is more than four years old. In your opinion, will the campaign stay effective for the foreseeable future?
- What makes AFLAC ads so effective? Is it something more than their entertainment value? If so, what else contributes to their success?
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