A Search for a Quack: Why I Think Aflac Got It Right


We’ve all heard that quack from the TV ads which annoying comedian Gilbert Gottfried made famous.  As a PR pro, I cringe whenever I hear it because it sounds like the duck is calling me “A FLACK!”

Personally, I didn’t really care whose voice it was behind “AFLAC!,” but when Gilbert Gottfried inappropriately tweeted offensive jokes about the tragedy in Japan, it got me fired up. Coming from New Jersey and working in New York City for many years including on 9/11, the thought of joking about a tragedy of this magnitude was disturbing. And I think I have a pretty good sense of humor.

What the Aflac PR team did to turn a crisis into a brand win is quite extraordinary. Here are five reasons why: 

1)      Aflac acted swiftly and appropriately.  When word got out of Gottfried’s inappropriate tweets, Aflac made a decision to fire him. I don’t think we’ll be seeing him ever again on the Aflac roster unlike sports celebrities who are given a second chance like Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, etc. Gottfried just isn’t in the same category – {a possible topic for fellow PRBC guest writer and sports PR expert Mike Schaeffer}.

2)      Like its duck’s quack, Aflac didn’t stop.  Ending a long-term relationship with a celebrity endorser whose tainted your brand is usually enough to stem the critics, but the company didn’t stop there.

3)      Utilized the negative coverage. I always tell clients to strike while the iron is hot. Well, Aflac did just that. It didn’t wait until things were quiet before launching the voice search for the new Aflac  quacker. As MWW Group head honcho, Michael Kempner puts it, “buzz begets buzz!” The word “buzz” might be overused today, but he’s been saying this since the mid-90’s. Rumor has it, he might’ve actually coined the word, “buzz.” 🙂

4)      Strategically combined social media and traditional media. Aflac didn’t dismiss the Twitter community, nor did it simply utilize social networks to publicize its voice search. Ten days after firing Gottfried on March 14th, Aflac launched a social media integrated Website, http://quackaflac.com, and announced live auditions in six major cities including New York and Austin where I am based. And yes, it utilized a news release. {Note: I didn’t audition, but I’ve been known to belt out Aflac in my sleep.}

5)      Aflac didn’t quack under pressure. Who cares about Royal Wedding coverage? It secured a ton of publicity for announcing the winner three days before the Super Bowl of weddings. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve been living in a cave. I commend Aflac for taking some of the publicity away from all that Royal Wedding hoopla.

It’s amazing how Aflac’s PR team was able to put this whole campaign on the fly (from Gottfried’s tweets to announcing the winner in a span of 45 days). Sometimes the best publicity opportunities are the ones that aren’t planned. Kudos to radio personality Dan McKeague for becoming the new duck voice for Aflac. He’s quacking all the way to fame, if not, the bank.

A NYC PR veteran, Joseph Vasquez is the founder/CEO of VASQ PR, an Austin-based full service PR firm. You can follow him @PRFlipside