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AFLAC April Fool’s: Turning a PR Crisis into National Promotion

March 31st, 2011

I can think of no better April fools promotion than an audition to be the next great Spokesduck for Aflac. Except this is no joke, it’s PR genius and a great lesson for handling a crisis.

It began with an ill-timed joke. Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian who has served as the gravel-voice behind the duck in television commercials since 2000. Known for his off-color stand-up routines, he posted a couple of one-liners to his Twitter account right after the tsunami hit Japan. As it turns out Japan represents about 75% of Aflac’s business. Ouch.

But, rather than sticking its head in the sand, (that’s for ostriches) the company rushed out a new television commercial featuring the Aflac duck in a parody of old silent movie that ends with an announcement of the search for the new spokesduck via nationwide auditions.

Aflac took advantage of social media channels to promote the auditions, which have taken on a life of their own via Facebook, YouTube and radio stations across the country.

The promotion is actually listed on Monster.com as a legitimate job. Interested parties have until midnight on April 1 (April Fools’ Day) to submit 30-second audio or video files with their best “Aflac squawk.” Files can be downloaded to quackaflac.com. Live auditions will be held in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Austin and Atlanta. I guess all we have are Eagles in Philadelphia.

So why should people give a duck? Since 2000, the Aflac Duck has appeared in 52 television ads and numerous radio ads, helping increase the company’s brand recognition from slightly more than 10 percent to an amazing 93 percent. The Aflac Duck is also a symbol for the company’s primary philanthropic cause, helping Aflac raise more than $62 million for the treatment and research of childhood cancer.

In an interview, Aflac Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Michael Zuna is taking it very seriously: “Being the new voice of the Aflac Duck carries responsibilities far beyond recording duck sounds,” he said. “The Aflac Duck symbolizes our promise to be there in times of need. It represents the philanthropy and the ethical values embraced by our employees and more than 72,000 independent sales agents across the nation, so we are looking for the best person to help advance our brand and business in a way that demonstrates our values.”

The gig pays six figures for a couple of days of work. Among the responsibilities listed for the new voice of the Aflac duck are the ability to “create innovative and original quacking that helps consumers understand how Aflac is different from major medical.” There’s also a little stipulation in the rules about inspiring trust and behaving ethically.

For now the duck is silent, but he does continue to virtually quack via his own Twitter account.

How would you rate it?

We applaud Aflac for taking swift action. Their efforts mirror our own crisis management philosophy of validating concern, showing action and controlling the narrative. Do you agree? Post a comment below with your rating of how Aflac did. 1 for ugly duckling…to 10 for a soaring promotion.

Posted Under: Advertising, Crisis Communications, Storytelling
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2 Responses to “AFLAC April Fool’s: Turning a PR Crisis into National Promotion”

  1. Jason Ginenthal says:

    Honestly? This is one of the better reactions to a crisis PR situation I’ve seen it recent years. I’d give it a 7 or an 8.

    I think what helped Aflac weather the storm is that many people don’t really know who Gilbert Gottfried is. Yes, the Tweets on his Twitter account were disastrous, but he was merely the *voice* behind the brand — not the face.

    As for their use of social media to find a new spokesperson, well, that was sheer genius. Aflac addressed the siutation, showed empathy, then allowed people to participate in something fun that would remedy the situation.

    Good for them. Now if only BP had been as savvy…

  2. Doug says:

    Love the promotion. I give it a 10. Free press all over the news, blogs, everywhere.
    As is said, free is usually good in the good news PR world.

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