Sometimes a Duck is More Than a Duck
How Aflac generated billions in revenue through name recognition
In 1990, the American Family Life Assurance Company did not have enough name recognition to break clear from the swarm of other companies whose names also began with the word, “American.” After switching to the acronym, Aflac, in the late 1990s, the company eventually hired a New York advertising agency that landed on a unique and risky concept after its own ad executives had trouble remembering their client’s name.
“It’s Aflac-Aflac-Aflac-Aflac-Aflac!” one exec soon exclaimed in exasperation. Someone else noted that he sounded like a duck—and the Aflac Duck was born.
Aflac CEO Daniel P. Amos believed in the concept, but had to walk a fine line when presenting it to skeptical audiences. “Well, there’s this duck,” he would explain. “And he quacks ‘Aflac.'” He would invariably receive the same response: a cool, uncomprehending stare.
Following the maxims, “Don’t risk a lot for a little,” and “Don’t risk more than you can afford,” Aflac spent $1 million on the initial advertising campaign. Today, company revenues are approaching $17 billion—a 44 percent increase since 2003—and the Aflac Duck has become a household personality with a Facebook fan base topping 166,000.
Aflac’s market is particularly gigantic in Japan, where the Aflac Duck merged with the Lucky Beckoning Cat, a Japanese icon, to become Maneki Neko Duck, who favors sagely counsel over loud quacking. Seventy percent of the company’s 2008 revenues stemmed from Japanese customers.
As you can see, name recognition can provide an astronomical boost to your bottom line, but the path to prominence also requires intelligent risk, originality and the strength to outdistance traditional mindsets.