Aflac's CMO Has Flown the Coop -- and He Never Did Ditch That Duck

Consumer-Goods Veteran Jeffrey Herbert Lasts Only One Year at the Insurer

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The duck stays; the CMO goes.

Aflac is hunting for a chief marketing officer after Jeffrey M. Herbert left after just a year on the job. The departure of Mr. Herbert, a 20-year marketer who has held executive slots at blue chippers Coca-Cola Co., Campbell Soup Co. and Kraft Foods, is the latest example of shrinking tenure among those in the top marketing slot.
Jeff Herbert stepped down as Aflac CMO after just one year.
Jeff Herbert stepped down as Aflac CMO after just one year.

But given that Aflac has been hitting its earnings and sales targets, along with the fact that Mr. Herbert, its first CMO, made radical moves to shake up the ad direction and marketing structure at a half-century-old company, it might also say something about trying to move an organization too far too fast.

'Personal reasons'?
Why Mr. Herbert stepped down is not clear; the company earlier this month cited "personal reasons" for the parting, and calls to Mr. Herbert were not returned. But one Aflac analyst speculated that Mr. Herbert, a "person with heavy consumer-goods experience who was hired from the outside," didn't fit the company's expectations.

Mr. Herbert, who joined the Columbus, Ga.-based supplemental insurer from his marketing-business-development post at consultant Zyman Group, led strategic-marketing efforts for Aflac's U.S. operations (including national advertising, product development, market development, consumer research and sponsorships). He worked closely with Senior VP-Director of Sales Ronald Kirkland.

"When we hired Jeff a year ago, we did so after deciding to split the senior-level responsibilities of marketing and sales. We still believe that is an effective organization for our business," said Paul S. Amos II, Aflac's president-chief operating officer, in a statement.

In his short time in the role, Mr. Herbert made sweeping changes, reorganizing a 200-person marketing group into seven areas, including channel marketing, marketing services, product marketing and strategic planning. He also announced plans to recruit additional marketing talent and agency partners.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Fitzgerald & Co., Atlanta, has had Aflac's North American media-buying and -planning account for 20 years. Publicis Groupe agency Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, has had the creative account since 1999, and WPP Group's OgilvyOne is Aflac's digital and B-to-B agency.

Big spender
One of the insurance industry's big ad spenders, Aflac shelled out $77 million on U.S. measured media (with a heavy emphasis on TV) last year and spent $38.2 million in the first half of 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Mr. Herbert earlier this year discussed with Ad Age his intention to reduce the duck's role in ads. Despite success of the duck in getting consumers to recognize the company's name -- brand awareness has risen 85% in recent years -- the average consumer wasn't grasping what Alfac actually does, Mr. Herbert said at the time. He later reversed his position and vowed not to abandon the duck, created by Kaplan Thaler.

And so the fowl remains in ads (and as a screen saver and ringtone). Aflac's spots still score high on IAG Research's likability and recall polls. Yet the duck is not as prominent and has most recently been upstaged in commercials -- by a goat.
Brand recall: percentage of TV viewers who recalled the commercial and the advertised brand. Likability: percentage of those who recalled the brand who reported liking the commercial "a lot." Source: IAG Research, Jan. 1, 2006 to Oct. 7, 2007 prime time on broadcast and major cable networks.
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