March 08, 2004
How To

How AFLAC Raised Its Consumer Brand Awareness From Almost Zero to 92%

SUMMARY: If you're struggling to come up with a brand awareness campaign that's memorable, you'll enjoy this quick interview with the marketer who led the brainstorming session that turned AFLAC into a household name.
Five years ago, AFLAC -- though a Fortune 500 company -- had little name recognition beyond its shareholders. The name itself seemed difficult for people to remember.

Today, thanks to a comic advertising campaign featuring a quacking duck, AFLAC is a household word, with a consumer awareness level of anywhere from 85% to 92%.

"The campaign was a surprise for us," says Al Johnson, 2nd VP, Advertising, for AFLAC Incorporated. "We have a white duck out there quacking our name, and we didn't know how the public was going to react to us. It reacted favorably and has taken off since."

We talked with Linda Kaplan Thaler -- CEO and Chief Creative Officer of AFLAC's creative agency, The Kaplan Thaler Group, Ltd., and creator of successful campaigns such as "Kodak Moments" and "I Don't Wanna Grow Up, I'm a Toys 'R Us Kid" -- on steps to creating a brand awareness ad campaign.

-> Step #1. Lay out the problem clearly

To hit on the right message, you need to know exactly what problem you're trying to solve.

With AFLAC, people couldn't remember the AFLAC name. Executives knew that before they tried to tell consumers what the company offered, they needed to increase name recognition.

"We had a great client who was able to very clearly lay out the problem," Kaplan Thaler says.

-> Step #2. Be illogical

"The biggest risk you can take now is not to take risks," Kaplan Thaler says. "You saw what happened at the Super Bowl. People spent millions of dollars and then Janet Jackson bared her breast and nobody talked about the advertisers. You have to make an impact and you have to do it very quickly."

According to Kaplan Thaler, people seem tired of logic and welcome random, chaotic thought. "We have run out of things that shock us, so maybe the next step is to do things completely illogically, thereby creating a way to sell your product."

The most illogical route is usually the most successful, she says. Kaplan Thaler suggested two ways of getting to that "illogical" frame of mind:

o Keep it simple

Don't try to encompass too much; people won't listen to a complicated message. "Give me the Sesame Street version," she suggests.

o Lateral thinking vs. literal thinking

Don't try to go directly from point A to point B (or from the problem to the solution). "Instead, look at point A and go in a horizontal fashion. The answer may be a mile away," Kaplan Thaler says. "Don't look down the road for the answer; look to your left and to your right. It's much more random, but it's a process."

-> Step #3. Look for a thread-gatherer

In a creative atmosphere, great ideas are common, Kaplan Thaler believes. The real challenge comes with recognizing the great ideas when they happen.

This thread-gathering, as she calls it, is a real talent, and one that not many people have, "but it's very important in a room where people are throwing out ideas."

One of her creative teams noticed that if you gave the name AFLAC a nasal inflection, it sounded like a duck quacking. Without a thread-gatherer, she says, her team probably would have thrown out the idea as a joke.

To find your thread-gatherer, look for the people who perk up when ideas are tossed around. Don't look for the obvious creative type. In fact, the people who have the most creative ideas are not the best thread-gatherers.

"If someone can sell you water, they can sell you anything," Kaplan Thaler says. "Remember, Charles Limbergh flew east, Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus, and somebody, somewhere ate that first piece of garlic."

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