Quacksmack: Ad Age's Rupal Parekh Tries Out to Be the Aflac Duck
Reporters -- particularly this one -- aren't big on beseeching, but in this case, I felt I had to really lay on the charm. "It'd be a great opportunity for our readers to see all the excitement behind your initiative."
This was, at the time, an attempt to convince Aflac it would be a good idea for me to not only sit in on the audition process the insurer was conducting to discover the next voice of its spokesduck, but also to allow me to try out my best Gilbert Gottfried.
She said she'd think about it.
A few days later came the call that they could squeeze me in for a tryout at 10:20 a.m. the following Tuesday. That would mark the final day of in-person auditions in a process that has been downright speedy; from the time the reedy-voiced spokesman fired off his Japan tweets to the time a new quacker will be selected, the duck was to be voiceless for less than six weeks.But as the audition neared, the duck call became hard to resist. What began as a journalistic endeavor evolved into an honest-to-goodness dream that I'd get the gig. I mean, who wouldn't want to quack for a living? You can work remotely, be famous without the burden of being recognized and feather a pretty nice nest with the paycheck. (Aflac told me the new spokesduck's salary will be in the low six figures.)
Excitedly, I told my fiance I'd get a slot to try out.
"So let's hear it," he said. I belted out my best quack.
That wrinkle on his forehead didn't look promising. He responded in a way you might not expect a soon-to-be groom to answer. "Uh, that's not very good. Try to be more nasally." But try as I might, the worse I sounded, so I just stopped and figured I'd, well, wing it.
Six cups of coffee coursing through my veins, I arrived at the sixth-floor office of Beth Melsky Casting, right off of Manhattan's Madison Park. (Aflac chose to go with the same agency it used when it originally cast Mr. Gottfried in the role.)
A contingent from the marketer and its agency, Publicis Groupe-owned Kaplan Thaler Groupe, were there already preparing for the onslaught of auditioners. I asked them what they'd seen thus far and was surprised by the range of hopefuls that had turned out. Tryouts in New York, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Las Vegas yielded more than 11,000 contenders.
Among them: NFL player Dhani Jones; an Elvis impersonator; a civil engineer who wears duck costumes and has made duck sounds since he was toddler; a more than 90-year-old woman; actor Eddie Deezen (who played Eugene in "Grease") and three parrots.
And me. It wasn't encouraging that two of the birds were apparently so good they made the callback list immediately.
I began querying the players lined up at Melsky, men and women who'd journeyed there from other parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Some of them had done voiceovers for commercials before, many were in radio in a past life, and several of them, surprisingly, were in financial services.
One after another, they filed into a room to face their judges, Kaplan Thaler creative directors Tom Amico and Eric David, the creators of the Aflac duck.
Each audition lasted no more than a few minutes. And each brought a different flavor. One woman explained that she regularly made duck sounds to her pets, while another, a director from France, became frustrated when he sensed his audition wasn't what Messrs. Amico and David were looking for. Maybe he was a method actor.
After watching several tryouts it occurred to me that maybe I didn't have the stuff after all. What if I laid an egg? I needed to find a way out. Maybe the Aflac folks and the creatives would forget my request to audition and think I was just there in journo-capacity.
As I got up to casually stroll to the door, Mr. Amico eyed me. "How 'bout you go now, Rupal?" he asked.
I hesitated. I smiled. There was no turning back now.
This was my first audition for anything since the cheerleading squad in high school (I barely squeaked by) and the first time in my decade living in New York City and years of covering advertising that I'd ever set foot into an actual casting agency. Stepping up to the microphone, I took a deep breath. I tried to calm my nerves, but my knees were shaking slightly.
"Try three in a row," Mr. Amico ordered. "Find your inner duck."
"AFLAC. AFLAC. AFLAC."
"Let's see how loud you can go."
"There ya go," he said.
I felt ridiculous.
"Try a little jabby one," said Mr. David. "Stretch the second syllable."
"ALFAC, ALFAC. AFLAAAAAC."
Weirdly, the more I quacked, the better it felt. It was therapeutic, making sounds that are unacceptable to make. "Now really happy," Mr. David said. "Someone just bought the insurance from you. ... And just one where you're triumphant. ... Stamp your foot down in anger. ... Now give me some grunts and groans and throw and Aflac in between that."
I didn't really know what any of that meant, but I obliged.
Said Mr. Amico: "I didn't know you had it in you."
When I got back to the office, colleagues gathered around to ask how it went. Said Andrew Hampp, in from our Los Angeles office: "Oh, I have to hear this." Kunur Patel, our digital and mobile reporter in New York, giggled. "Rupal, you're glowing!" I recounted how surprised I was at the adrenaline rush an audition could elicit.
As it turns out, I had the right to that glow. "We thought Rupal's audition was quirky, funny and unexpected," the creatives said in their assessment. "She is definitely in the top 100 out of the thousands we've heard so far." They said to expect a callback.
That news came to the dismay of my boss, Abbey Klaassen, who no doubt began envisioning the email communicating my departure. "It's with regret that I announce the resignation of Rupal Parekh, a dedicated member of the Ad Age team since 2007. We're not losing her to a rival publication. She is beginning a new career. As a professional duck."