I loved the Duck at first. His arrival back in 2000 was a hoot. You’ve got to hand that to talking ducks, especially ones that can almost pronounce the company name. He was fresh, he was cute. He quacked me up -- and was destined for advertising stardom.
But has he finally lost his duck go-power? Partially.
The Duck reminds me of Joe Namath, the New York Jets star quarterback who Hanes Hosiery hired to do a TV spot for a new product called Beautymist 40 years ago.
The camera panned along a pair of slender legs sheathed in the product while a perky woman who sounded like she was about to break into laughter talked about how Beautymist makes any legs look like a million dollars. Then we see it’s really Joe. The commercial was hugely successful. Recall was out of this world – for Joe Namath. Hardly anybody remembered the product.
In contrast, the Duck worked for Aflac right out of the box. People associated the brand with him immediately. But even as the Duck worked his creative magic, it was hard to discern from the commercials what Aflac actually did – at least for me. Even today, I had to go to Wikipedia to remind myself that Aflac sells different types of insurance and is best known for the supplemental kind offered through employers – insurance that pays expenses not covered by existing major medical coverage.
Interestingly, their Web site wasn’t much help until I ventured well beyond the landing page.
In a recent MediaPost article, columnist Steve Smith seems to disagree with me -- I think.
He cites a TV spot about quick claim resolution in which the Duck “highlights the competency of the brand by contrasting it with the duck’s ineptitude in all other endeavors.” In other words, the Duck acts the fool to introduce an Aflac product feature, like “a near-silent comedian trading on a string of sight gags.”
Smith then recommends “leveraging the duck more effectively” on Vine and Instagram. In other words, export the silliness to social media where it can be broken into bits and enjoyed ad nauseum. Thus, the writer (who also is a digital media critic and a columnist for Mobile Marketing Daily) presumes that the Duck remains effective in a slapstick, “idiot savant” sort of way.
There clearly is a market for silliness or there wouldn’t be so many cat videos on YouTube. But as a brand spokes-icon, the Duck seems to have lost his way. He’s gotten sillier and sillier, taking more and more attention away from the product in a situation where the brand desperately needs to communicate a key message. The Duck’s original mission was elegantly simple: create awareness of the brand name. But now it seems that he has almost become the message.
The Duck is no more Aflac’s message than Joe Namath was Beautymist’s message, although the Duck and the brand are now practically indistinguishable. His function should be to lay out the welcome mat for the message but not overwhelm it. He should make his entrance, do his bit and exit stage right.
Even so, the Duck clearly has produced results for Aflac – in a let’s “run the damned idea into the ground until every blessed soul in America is familiar with an otherwise obscure personal insurance product” sort of way, as Smith puts it. “Sometimes frequency trumps creative cleverness,” he concludes -- although the Energizer Bunny might not agree.
But think how much more effective (and less dependent on frequency) Aflac's advertising would have been had the Duck set the stage for a powerful tagline that amplified their brand message and prompted even more qualified prospects to inquire about their product.
“It all seems to be a slightly tortured road to underscore the brand’s point,” Smith writes, commenting on the most recent Aflac spot, in which the character does poorly at Yoga. I couldn’t agree more. But then he stretches that point by suggesting that the Duck’s antics force the viewer to “make some sense of the online slapstick and engage more deeply in order to make the tiny logical hop to the brand message.”
I don't quite buy that. Aflac needs to crank the Duck back and focus more on brand positioning and product benefits.
TakeAway: Clever is never enough.
Content © by Brian E. Faulkner
Tags: tagline, key message, Aflac, Aflac Duck, Hanes Hosiery, Beautymist, Joe Namath, Energizer Bunny, YouTube, cat videos
AbouT Brian Faulkner:
> blogs to establish you as the thought leader / authority in your business category
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Brian also is a three-time Emmy award-winning Public Television writer / narrator. He is principal writer and narrator of UNC-TV’s popular "Our State" magazine series, on the air since 2003. His distinctive sound has been heard on many hundreds of radio spots and client videos since the 1970s. People say he has a “Mercedes voice” and sounds a bit like Charles Kuralt, which Brian considers a welcome ... but happy ... illusion.