How global pandemic is pushing Aflac to evolve past talking duck

The insurance firm launches campaign focused on how it can help consumers in distress at this time and beyond.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

"Aflac!"

You don’t even need to hear it -- that quacky catchphrase rings through your head every time America’s most famous duck appears in your life.

In that sense, the borderline-annoying mascot has done exactly what it was designed to do: grow mass brand awareness. But can you tell me what area of insurance Aflac specializes in? Or its latest deal? Or the easiest way to get a quote? Probably not. 

However, a global pandemic has changed this.   

"We aired the first duck commercial 20 years ago, and it helped increase awareness from 10% to 90% within three years," Valencia Mitchell, Aflac’s VP of brand marketing, told Campaign U.S. "Today, we’re focused on educating consumers about what Aflac actually does, which is help pay medical expenses that health insurance doesn’t cover. "

It’s done exactly that with a campaign powered by agency partners Dagger and Spark Foundry. Through consumer insight, they discovered just how overwhelmed people become when they receive a medical bill they mistakenly thought health insurance would cover.

People said they may feel a variety of emotions from frustrated to anxious to even embarrassed, with thoughts ranging from how they’ll pay the bill to how they missed the fact that their health insurance wouldn’t cover it in the first place. In reality, a significant portion of people in America have this experience. We just don’t talk about it. 

"We want to build on the familiarity of Aflac, created by the Aflac Duck, while educating consumers about what Aflac is," Mitchell continued. "We’re working to normalize feelings about unexpected healthcare costs, while showing we are there for our policyholders when they need us most. To help spread this message, we are anchoring our campaign on driving awareness, human connection and innovation. We plan to diversify our media mix and messaging by shifting our approach from expected to unexpected environments."

The new drive builds on Aflac's 2019 Aflac Isn't campaign, which is helping to eliminate people’s misconceptions about its products and how they’re used. The new spots, under the Not Alone initiative, will be amplified by custom Spotify ads, iHeart Radio podcast ads, online videos and social media.

Mitchell said the campaigns have evolved to become "more people-centric," and the brand "will continue to evolve and show up in nontraditional ways surrounding key sports and music moments." 

To amplify its message, Alfac is also creating robust internal communications for its 5,000-plus employees, broker partners and the more than 30,000 independent agents licensed to sell its products.

Like all companies, Aflac had to move at a newfound pace to quickly implement work-from-home policies and virtual tools needed to work remotely when COVID-19 took hold. Leadership started weekly pulse checks to ensure they are providing the right type and level of information and that they are okay not just physically, but mentally and financially. 

The brand recently announced a $5 million donation to help companies that are making protective gear used by first responders, such as masks and gloves. In Japan, where Aflac is also a leader in the supplemental insurance space, it made a similar contribution of ¥500 million.

"Aflac’s brand was strong before the pandemic, it is strong now and we expect it to be even stronger in the future," said Mitchell, explaining Alflac’s marketing strategy in a post-pandemic world. "The new campaign is part of a multiyear effort kicked off last year and, ultimately, it’s focused on helping consumers better understand Aflac’s products and services. The post-COVID-19 environment will be uncertain, but we want our current and potential customers to know that the value of our products and services will not change and that Aflac policyholders are never alone. "

The insurance giant will be head-down on ensuring its marketing efforts are authentic with respect to what it is as a brand and its commitment to being there for consumers when help is needed most. 

"We focus on data and research, balancing it with cultural and societal insights and the ability to be nimble in our marketing efforts. COVID-19 will bring some changes in content, but not in context," she added. "We have always been there for our customers, and as the Not Alone campaign points out, we intend to ensure that people always come first."

This story first appeared on campaignlive.com. 

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