Spexious

Observations and arguments.

Archive for February, 2007

What will it take to kill the Aflac Duck?

News today in AdvertisingAge that insurance giant Aflac was changing its marketing strategy to reduce its reliance on the “Aflac Duck”, because while most US consumers recognize the feathered character (85% in testing), almost no one knows it has anything to do with insurance.

Following a flurry of blog posts, Aflac released a press release within hours reassuring the public that the rumors of the duck’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

“Like all of America, we love the Aflac Duck,” said Jeff Herbert, Aflac’s Chief Marketing Officer. “It is as central to our marketing efforts today as it will continue to be going forward.”

Credit Aflac for paying attention to the internets, but for the love of God, please just kill the duck.

I credit (blame) Chiat/Day for the creation of modern mascot advertising, partly because they like to credit themselves for it. After taking the Energizer battery account from DDB Needham, Chiat/Day leveraged the pink bunny used in a previous commercial, and created a series of ads that are now considered classics of the last century. In the classic template, a fake commercial for a fake product is interrupted by the roll-through appearance of the battery-powered bunny, which is “Still going…”. Funny, yes. Memorable, yes. “Disruptive” and surprising in the way that Chiat likes its advertising to be.

But here’s the problem: people remember the commercial, and the mascot, but not the product. I realized this when I heard Katie Couric once refer to the “Everready Bunny” on the air. I’ve heard (and read) this mistake multiple times since, and it suggests to me a fundamental problem with the campaign.

Would there have been any better way to brand Energizer to help distinguish it from Everready? I don’t have the answer to that, and Energizer does at least put the bunny on its packaging (although on some packages it’s hidden by the batteries themselves).

Chiat/Day went on to create the Taco Bell chihuahua and the Pets.com sock puppet, both of which the agency (now TBWA\Chiat\Day or Media Arts Lab or some wank name) still claim as major success stories. The sock puppet was popular enough that even though Pets.com collapsed, the character was revived by a different company for a series of ads selling… what, exactly? Can anyone remember?

The much beloved chihuahua ultimately got the agency fired, because while the fast food chain was selling a lot of plush dog toys, its sales of food (you know: its actual product) continued to decline. Despite the popularity of the ads.

While I know that brand advertising is about building relationships with customers (rather than generating sales per se), the point, as I understand it, is the relationship you want to build is between the customers and the brand, not the customers and the award-winningly creative advertising creatives.

Tom Carroll, chief executive of TBWA/Chiat Day (sic), said he was disappointed by the dismissal and felt ditching the Chihuahua would be a mistake.

“People like the dog,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”

Tom. Your creative team was not hired to get people to like a dog. Is that a simple enough concept for you to understand?

To build its business, or better yet to create more meaningful relationships with its customers, Aflac should put its award-winning duck out of its misery and try something new.

Or, better yet!

Create a series of ads telling the story of the duck’s near-demise, and its long descent into the hardship, faceless bureacracy, near-permanent financial burden, and lasting emotional toll shared by millions of uninsured Americans. Show the real human (or avian, as it were) cost of being caught without a safety net. But funny, you know? Like those Foster Farms chickens.

People would love that.

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