The Idea: Ten years right into an ambitious heralding campaign, Aflac still had low surname recognition. Would certainly a loud duck do any kind of better?

The Idea: Ten years right into an ambitious heralding campaign, Aflac still had low name recognition. Would a loud duck do any kind of better?

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The Idea: Ten years into an ambitious proclaiming campaign, Aflac still had low name recognition. Would a according to duck do any kind of better?

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The Aflac Duck is a rock star in Japan. It is the only method I can define how big he has become there. In a down economy, Aflac Japan’s sales enhanced by 12% in 2003, the year we presented the duck. Now we insure one the end of every four Japanese households and also are the leading insurance company measured by number of policies in force. We took the title native Nippon Life, which had held the for much more than 100 years.

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In 2009 our Japanese marketing team presented a brand-new incarnation that the duck for a new insurance product. The a mix of our duck and the traditional asian good-luck white cat, Maneki Neko. The cat duck has end up being so popular that our newest commercial was voted number one in Japan. A gigantic plush version of Maneki Neko Duck toured the nation by bus, drawing crowds as big as 20,000 in city after ~ city. In ~ each event we set up tables wherein we were able to sell policies to enthusiasm fans.

Incarnations that Aflac’s Branding Mascot

U.S. Commercial clip


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Japanese advertising clip


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Maneki Neko Duck


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How walk we even get come this point? What made our white duck a emotion in Japan as soon as the initial Aflac Duck advertising aired there? more important, how has actually it aided drive revenues up by 44% because 2003? Aflac’s revenues in 2008 to be $16.6 billion, with 70% of that coming from Japan.


Aflac’s 2008 earnings were $16.6 billion—70% of the from Japan.


No one is more surprised than I am.

development in Aflac’s Two key Markets 1999–2008

Since Aflac introduced the duck in that is commercials, the company’s combined revenues in the U.S. And Japan have actually markedly increased.


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Making a surname for Aflac

The Aflac Duck was created to rise the that company name recognition in the united States. As soon as I very first became CEO the the American family Life Assurance Company, in 1990, ns reviewed all of our operations and also decided to sell or near the ones the were underperforming in bespeak to emphasis on Japan and the joined States, the two greatest insurance markets in the world. Ns took the $8 million we saved by closing those operations and also launched a name-awareness ad campaign in the joined States. Our name recognition at the moment was about 2%. Nearly a decade later on it was still below 10%. At that rate, i realized, I’d it is in retired before we reached 25%. We had actually to perform something dramatic.

Keep in mind that the company’s surname was originally American family members Life insurance allowance Company. “Insurance” was changed to “assurance” as the result of a gentleman’s coin toss between our former CEO and the head the a Wisconsin insurance agency of the same name. Yet I might see that we still had trouble separating ourselves native the scores of other companies whose names began with “American.” A radical name readjust would have been impractical, due to the fact that we would certainly have had actually to offer up all our insurance allowance licenses and reapply for new ones in every state. So rather than shot a brand-new name, we determined to go with our acronym, Aflac.

In the so late 1990s, we believed it was time because that some brand-new television advertisements, so we invited number of agencies to pitch us at the very same time in a an imaginative shoot-out. Us reviewed at least 20 different concepts and collection out to check the best. The optimal two organ were permitted to submit five ads each for testing.

One the the agencies was the new York–based Kaplan Thaler Group, whose an imaginative guys came up with the idea that the Aflac Duck since they’d been having actually a tough time remembering our name. One day, among them asked, “What’s the surname of the account we’re pitching?” A partner replied, “It’s Aflac—Aflac—Aflac—Aflac.” Someone said that that sounded prefer a duck, and the idea was born.

Kaplan Thaler chose to hazard pitching the duck, hope that us wouldn’t be offended by the commercial’s making funny of our name. Through some trepidation, we agreed come let the agency test the commercial, in addition to some various other concepts, to identify which of them to be the many memorable.

Our vault commercials had actually consistently underperformed other financial services ads, i m sorry earned, top top average, a 12—meaning the 12% of civilization polled recalled the company’s name after city hall the ad. In 6 years only one of our commercials had actually earned a 12.

In the Kaplan Thaler testing, one of the highest-scoring concepts featured the actor ray Romano, whose hit tv show, Everybody Loves Raymond, to be then in ~ the height of that popularity. At the finish of the commercial, some youngsters who to be playing v blocks spelled the end “Aflac.” The advertisement scored an 18—more 보다 50% far better than we had actually been doing. I thought about it a bird in the hand.

But that darn Aflac Duck score a 27.

We had actually a dilemma: have to we go v a commercial therefore bold—or v the gentle beam Romano commercial that performed much much better than our classic ads? i asked one of my CEO friends, that said, “Nobody ever before got fired for doing 50% better. Go through the for sure choice.”

But ns couldn’t disregard that 27.

A Duck in the Hand?

When ns tried explaining to world what we were thinking about, no one acquired it. “Well, yes this duck,” I’d say. “And that quacks Aflac.” The an answer was always the same: a quiet stare. For this reason I quit telling people. I didn’t even tell our board; I just said we were make the efforts something very bold and creative for our proclaiming campaign. It’s daunting to explain, i told them, however we’ve had it tested, and also the numbers room amazing.


“Well, there’s this duck,” I’d say. “And the quacks Aflac.” The solution was always the same: a silent stare.


Having acquired my college degree in hazard management, i was cursed to making the decision the means I’d been taught: Don’t hazard a lot for a little; don’t risk more than you deserve to afford to lose; and consider the odds. Us were going to invest $1 million in the initial advertisement campaign. That’s a lot of money, however we might afford to shed it, and also I knew the odds. I determined that we’d run the commercial for two weeks and also monitor every second. If the went badly, i was simply going to pull it. At that time, us weren’t sophisticated enough to realize precisely what we were doing. Us were simply going come test because that name recognition afterward.

The very first Aflac Duck advertisement debuted on new Year’s Day, 2000, on CNN. The ran 4 times an hour. Ns knew the businesspeople would certainly be the town hall CNN all day to view if the Y2K virus had actually wreaked havoc. So it was a good slot for us to gain maximum saturation. Ns watched it myself, over and also over, still not sure if this would work.

Success to be immediate—in fact, it to be overwhelming. Our very first day on the air, we had an ext visits to our website than in the whole year before. In ~ weeks us were obtaining requests because that a stuffed-animal version of the duck. We didn’t know just how to manufacture ducks, but we quickly came up through a plan and decided the all the proceeds would be donated to the Aflac Cancer Center, in Atlanta. Within just a couple of months us had generated $75,000 because that the cancer center.

I’m not sure I really believed that the duck to be a success till a couple of months later. Us were sponsoring an occasion at Disney Studios in link with the autonomous National Convention in Los Angeles. We didn’t recognize whether it would be a good idea to placed ducks on all the tables—the type of thing we’d ordinarily perform as an occasion sponsor. This to be a group of 500 movers and also shakers. Ns didn’t want to be embarrassed if nobody took the ducks. Ns paid nearly no attention to what anyone was talking about that afternoon; ns was simply watching to see if ducks to be left top top the tables.

By the finish of the event, castle were all gone. Ns spotted the head the Disney Studios v a bulge under his jacket. When I jokingly asked him what to be going on, he said, “I want you to understand that Donald is always the king roughly here. Yet I desire to take it one home to my kids.” the was it for me: the confirmation of confirmations. Ns knew we had a winner and we had to play the for all it was worth.

What remained to it is in seen, however, to be whether we would accomplish our organization goals. That inquiry was answer swiftly: In the very first year ours sales in the United says were increase by 29%; in three years they had doubled. Our name recognition was as much as 67% after two years of running the commercials. We raised our ad spending in proportion to growth. Today it’s at $65 million, and our name acknowledgment is higher than 90%.

The Duck walk Global

When I decided it to be time to bring the Aflac Duck to our Japanese market, i assumed, ~ above the basis of the duck’s incredible success in the unified States, that my idea would certainly be eagerly received. But although i was excited around the id of synergy and consistent worldwide branding, our Japanese marketing director was not.

Aflac had remained in Japan since 1974, and we were one of the most financially rewarding companies operation there. However the marketing director felt no burning require to change his strategy. Although the Aflac Duck had become integral to that we to be in the joined States, he could not imagine the a white duck would offer insurance in Japan.

I’m not certain he construed the connection—maybe due to the fact that in Japan a duck no say “quack-quack,” it claims “ga-ga.” no to mention that in Japan the firm was recognized by its complete name: American household Life Assurance Company. I began to know the challenge for him. The did, however, halfheartedly agree come dub a U.S. Commercial right into Japanese and see how it did. No surprisingly, it didn’t do very well. I learned a valuable lesson native this experience: If friend don’t have buy-in from the human being you’re leading, your principles won’t work.

For a year and also a half, i let mine idea go. Yet it grounding in my mind. So i tried again. I told the marketing manager that ns wasn’t walking to force him to execute this, but if he can find a method to do the duck occupational in Japan, I’d pay him a $50,000 bonus at the end of the year. Miraculously, angels must have come down and spoken to him, since lo and behold, he determined it could be a an excellent idea to shot the duck.

Once I had his buy-in, Aflac Japan helped make the appropriate social adjustments. An initial of all, the comedian Gilbert Gottfried’s voice, i m sorry we supplied for the American duck, didn’t occupational in Japan. Civilization thought the duck to be yelling at them. So we supplied a softer voice. And also in the united States, civilization identify with the boisterous Aflac Duck who struggles to it is in heard. However, in Japan it’s extremely rude to ignore people—or ducks, for that matter. Therefore the Japanese duck interacts v people. He is a sage financial adviser who helps protect families.

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Duck Wranglers Needed

Making a advertising in Japan through a genuine duck no easy, since the Japanese weren’t supplied to utilizing live animals in ads. We had to fly in several human being from our U.S. Operation and a duck-wrangling crew because that the commercial shoot. Ns pretty sure our Japanese colleagues assumed we were toppyoushimonai (crazy) because that doing all this. But they to be committed to making it work regardless of their doubts.

The Japanese Aflac Duck ads exceeded our wildest expectations. Various versions that the solder from the commercials ended up being the number one download cell-phone ringtone in Japan. Adhering to our lead in the united States—where the duck has actually a Twitter account and also 165,000 on facebook fans, and also YouTube is filled through parodies of Aflac commercials—Aflac Japan began marketing come the society media and created a website that enables people to rework the song the duck sings in Japanese commercials. In the website’s an initial two month of existence, 100,000 civilization posted spoofs. (By early on November 2009 that number had reached 200,000.)