Vásken Kalayjian’s interview on PBS’s Nightly Business Report March 25, 2010

vk_screenshotNightly Business Report: Aflac has been successful with it’s branding campaign – the duck – what do you make of that


Vásken Kalayjian: Before the duck, people did not remember the Aflac name- couldn’t say the name Aflac because it’s not a very good name, frankly. It’s an abbreviation, an acronym of American Family Life Insurance Company. So people had a hard time with the name. The agency 10 years ago came up with the idea of the duck saying Aflac and it was great and it caught on.

NBR: Why are those commercials so appealing to the public


VK: They appeal to the public because they use humor and a cuddly white duck as a wonderful way to be friendly, entertaining, and funny about serious insurance topics. The commercials use everyday situations to drive a point across about important insurance coverage Aflac offers. A living duck with a personality brings the company alive.

aflac_duck_2NBR: What are the pros and cons to being so closely identified to this marketing strategy – one lone duck – we know the company but not much else

VK: One lone duck is worth a lot – the value of the Aflac brand is greater because of that recognition of the duck! To have so many people in the world know this company through this “Duck” makes this a golden duck!

Our firm gkBRAND does a lot of consulting with companies wanting to enter other markets: To enter a country such as Brazil, China or India, the name “Aflac” alone would be a huge hurtle to overcome. Aflac is an achromin and has given them a cute tag line: “We’ve got you under our wing” – They are all about delivering benefit to their consumer – they are engaging. The duck – will help Aflac ease into the overseas markets and dominate them. In Brazil they speak Portuguese and may have a hard time with the Aflac name, but they will love the duck.

This is also is the case in India and China as well… where the duck has a positive connotation but the name Aflac hard to say and remember. The duck can be multi national. In Japan the campaign has been most effective.

NBR: So Aflac has moved to the second phase of its branding campaign, educating the public – will it work?

VK: Educating the public will only work for a very short while in traditional media. People want to be entertained… and they want value. You should get your message across while entertaining. The public is smart … its not just what the ads are saying, its what is being said in all the conversations, like social media. There is a whole life that the public has given to the duck like the “marriage between the duck and Geico’s gecko,” it appeals to the public’s imagination and they take it and give a whole life to it. If I want to be educated, all I have to do is Google Aflac products!

aflacduck2NBR: Will we want more cute ads from the duck?

VK: Yes, The public wants consistent brand promise, they want to be entertained and they want substance. Today the customer buys value. Recent messaging has been about “Aflacts” to describe information about the policies and a theme they use, “We’ve got you under our wing.”

NBR: If Aflac were a client of yours how would you advise them on their marketing/branding strategy?

VK: gkBRAND is a very research and strategy driven brand agency. I would have to see the research results… but off the cuff I would say give the duck a voice! Send it to speech classes and let it speak to us about what is Aflac more than just saying the name.

Obviously the key branding differentiators cannot be ignored such as:

1. Identify Aflac’s core values and the beliefs and make sure all the, branding, marketing, social media… are based on those values. I call it authenticity which is: the things you say, are the things you do and the things you believe in

2. Manage Aflac’s brand Assets carefully. Communicate – Clearly and strategically – particularly in the area of products and services- Needs vs. wants- benefits and values

3. Identify the key hot buttons of Aflac’s customers and make sure they are addressed; clearly this would be market specific. So much has changed in the last 18 months.
This requires adjusting the messaging regularly, and what I love about social it is very current.

4. Your brand is a promise: Promises to your audiences have to be kept impeccably

5. You brand is your Reputation: Monitor social media like a hawk and be proactive about the conversation

NBR: Can they extend the life of the duck – the duck has it’s on Facebook page and it tweets too on Twitter – so it has crossed over from television successfully to social networking

VK: Aflac has a good team and it’s been a very successful campaign for them. The Duck has become an icon. The Duck can outlive us all as long as it’s taken care of!

NBR: Can you think of any other branding campaign that has been as successful as the Aflac duck


VK: Geico has done a very good job with the gecko with the South London accent. Years ago IBM had a great campaign with Charlie Chaplin character.

NBR: Bottom-line what has Aflac done right and what has it done wrong


VK: Aflac has done an outstanding job with the duck. “You don’t know Quack” will be a short-lived campaign. It speaks to the Gen-Y and not really to the baby boomers.
Also, to switch the brand from “Humor” archetype to a “Knowledge” archetype is a big shift and it will backfire. However, giving the duck a voice and the campaign with 2-3 other types of spots that are more product centric will work well, the way Geico does with their campaigns.

I also think the tagline “You don’t know Quack” is too similar sounding to the product “You don’t know Jack”. As a branding agency we are very diligent about doing trademark checks on these issues. I am not sure how it got through Aflac’s legal department.

Click here to watch the feature on PBS’s Nightly Business Report

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