Inside the Mix

Aflac's high public profile lays foundation for the company to expand its marketing efforts

Aflac's high public profile lays foundation for the company to expand its marketing efforts

Last week's PRWeek story on Aflac detailed how the company had recognized that, while we all love that duck, not so many of us are entirely sure what he/she/it actually does.

Aflac is an unusual case in that it has an incredibly high brand awareness - which just goes to show the power of an audible gimmick that can be repeated, such as a jingle ("ba-ba-ba-ba-baaa - I'm lovin' it") or, indeed, a loud, repeated quack - but not such a high awareness of the company's offerings. What's more, the dilemma itself also has a high awareness: When I asked several marketing people if they could think of a company with a high brand awareness but a low product knowledge, at least a dozen suggested I look at Aflac.

Aflac's current ad, with Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the duck, appearing as himself, has a storyline that is analogous to the change in the marketing direction. Tired of hearing just one word, "Aflac," the whole time, Gottfried goes to a pet shop and attempts to exchange the duck for another animal - a parrot that, without saying the word "Aflac," describes the company's product benefits - chiefly, that it gives you cash in the event of a medical crisis.

That the product benefits can be summarized so succinctly by a talking bird does beg the question, why do people not know this already? It's not as if there were no previous explanation of the brand; before now, ads had people talking about scenarios that the company could remedy. In these, the duck was trying to explain that Aflac was the answer to their problems, but was repeatedly ignored. Not just by the other characters in the ads, it turns out.

Aflac has been refreshingly honest about the fact that its marketing has been successful only up to a point. It can afford to be, given the enviably high awareness people have of the brand. Laura Kane, second VP of corporate communications at Aflac, explains that in a scary industry, such as insurance, Aflac's situation isn't all that unfortunate. "Insurance is a product that takes more research than most and is not something most people want to think about," she told me. "That said, I don't know that we are going to tell you enough about our products for you to become knowledgeable - we are going to tell you enough to make you think about the current coverage you have and is it enough. If it is not enough, what are your options? Aflac is a good option." She adds that people like to do business with companies they know. If they know your name, they are likely to want to find out more about you, and with the added tagline, "Ask about it at work," it is clear how people can find out more about Aflac.

With this campaign fix, Aflac is potentially in an incredibly strong position in the insurance category. Brand loyalty is first built through awareness, and there's no doubt Aflac has that in spades. The next stage, says Janelle Barlow, author of the book Branded Customer Service, is active consideration, in which customers will actively seek out more information about products that catch their eye. Now that Aflac is making that process a whole lot easier, the duck will be ignored no longer.

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