Insurer breaks $40 mil push in effort to duck competition

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American Family Life Assurance Co. will mix insurance advice and a talking duck in a $40 million campaign breaking New Year's Eve.

The insurer will break the first spot from new agency Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, during CNN's 32-hour "Millennium" news special Dec. 31. The campaign kicks off in force the next day on network TV broadcasts of football bowl tournaments, with magazine ads to follow in the spring.

The company wants to fight off increased competition from other insurers that also offer supplemental health and disability coverage to individuals via their employers.


Aflac was the only supplemental insurer to advertise nationally when it began its efforts in 1991, said Kathleen Spencer, director of corporate communications. But competition has increased during the 1990s, as the industry consolidated and insurers were acquired by financial services companies, she added.

"This is a category that tends to have a lot of dreary `video wallpaper' [ads]. . . . This is an opportunity to break out of the pack," said Linda Kaplan Thaler, agency president-CEO. The shop won the $40 million account in October. Fitzgerald & Co., Atlanta, which had been Aflac's creative agency, kept the media-buying assignment.

TV spots feature a frustrated duck who tries to break into conversations about insurance, honking the company's nickname. In the debut spot, "Park Bench," two parkgoers discuss insurance while the duck repeatedly quacks "Aflac."

All spots are tagged "Without it, no insurance is complete."

The talking duck idea came to the creative directors on the campaign, copywriter Tom Amico and art director Eric David, while brainstorming ways to highlight the company's name.

"We kept saying `Aflac, Aflac, Aflac.' The more we kept playing with the name, the more it sounded like a duck quacking," said Mr. David.


Since Aflac's coverage isn't sold directly to consumers, the campaign had to make the name memorable enough so viewers would remember to ask their employers, said Mr. Amico.

Aflac has set aggressive growth plans for 1999 and beyond, including 20% revenue growth this year and 15% to 17% earnings growth in 2000 and 2001. It has met the target so far: for the first nine months, revenues rose 21.6% to $6.3 billion, from $5.2 billion in 1998.

"It's a great time to look at ways we can do more [advertising], do it better and maybe take a bit of a risk with a different message," said Aflac's Ms. Spencer.

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