You have to respect the ad agency that recommended the AFLAC duck.

by: Charles Gaiennie on

This week we had sales reps from AFLAC stop in to share the benefits of their insurance plans for our growing company. They were professional and very helpful, and we may take a look at their products. Please don't tell them this, but what really stood out to me during their presentation was that big, white duck.


As they flipped through their presentation binder I just couldn't help but focus on the duck — that silly bird that has become the iconic symbol of AFLAC. While the duck is now well established as the symbol of the company, as a marketing guy who regularly makes recommendations on company branding, it made me reflect on the courage and vision of the agency that stood up before the executive management of AFLAC to make a recommendation of a duck  as the brand in an industry known for its conservatism and status-quo mentality.


Here's the picture in my mind...


Ad agency: "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time today as we set the course for what will be the public identity for your company."


(stone face stares)


Ad agency continues: "In developing your new brand, we have carefully considered the leadership position that AFLAC has earned in the market and the vision of its executives who have brought us to this moment."


(nods of self-approval).


Ad agency readies for the big moment: "And now, your new brand!"


(pulls the drape off the easel to reveal - a duck)



(stunned silence)


Did it go down like this?  Who knows?  But the point is that suggesting a duck as the leading image of an insurance company had to take guts.


This leads me to the observation that in branding and communications the message is ultimately not about you but rather what the market remembers about you. For AFLAC, we are pretty sure that a duck has little to do with the insurance industry. Had the ad agency followed the safe route, AFLAC would likely be an also-ran insurance company doing business as American Family Life Insurance of Columbus (pardon the yawn). Instead, they are busy touting their climb to the 125th spot on the Fortune 500. Maybe the duck was a good idea after all.


So when it comes to branding, have a little backbone. You just never know where it might lead you.

A Mass Market of One

by: Charles Gaiennie on


It is sometimes said that the sweetest sound is that of our own voice. What this means is that if you want someone to really pay attention, talk to them, about them. But in marketing, where the mediums of communication often include billboards, television commercials, newspaper advertisements and radio ads, there is a fundamental conflict in doing this – by design, these mediums are designed to reach the broadest possible audience with the broadest possible appeal. But in successful marketing, saying the wrong thing to the wrong audience is worse than saying nothing at all. So what’s a company to do?


Here are some suggestions.

Start by recognizing that your total market is actually made up of a bunch of smaller markets, each with its own set of characteristics and preferences. It’s called segmentation and it’s key to identifying who your market is and what they are interested in. It’s the foundation of approximating the experience of talking just to them about what interests them the most.

Take me as an example. I am an avid guitar player. Not a great guitar player, but an avid guitar player just the same and I love to get advertisements about guitars. So you would think then that guitar stores should be loading me up with whatever guitar-related message they can, right? Well, not quite right. To begin with, I am not just a guitar player, I am an acoustic guitar player and I have very specific preferences as to the brand and type of guitar I like. So any guitar store that sends me catalogs about their latest ax-shaped shredder guitar is just going to annoy me and cement in my mind a commitment to stay as far away from their products as possible. However, send me something about the anniversary line of solid wood, spruce-top Martins, Guilds and Gibson flattops and you have my undivided attention for hours! Get the point?

If all of this sounds hard, don’t worry. It’s not as hard as you might think, but it does require that you have the right tools at your disposal to identify and get in front of the right audience with your message. Advertisers are getting really good at this with cable, website and newspaper advertising, bringing on some very sophisticated techniques to help you get the right message to the right person at the right time.

Take our friends over at Charter Cable, for example. Got a new Cajun Seasoning Blend? They can drop your message right in the middle of the Paula Deen Show on the Food Network right alongside the Kraft Mac and Cheese spot. And it won’t be people in Minnesota seeing it, either, it will be the people in our community who can then get right up and walk into Rouses to get a can of the stuff.

Our buds at the Courier/Comet can do something similar as well based on key words you use to look up a story. Type in “sports scores” for example and, in addition to the latest scores, you’ll see information about the latest and greatest in sports and exercise equipment available locally. Many other great examples exist.

So when you’re ready to have a one-on-one conversation with a few thousand people, give us a call at 985.446.6088 or complete our request form now.

Until next week.

Does your billboard pass the 70 mph test?

by: Charles Gaiennie on

Billboards are a wonderful thing. First of all, they are big which means that they are pretty hard to ignore. Second, they provide you with something to do in an otherwise uncommitted moment of driving or while you are waiting for the light to change, when your mind is generally free to read and hopefully absorb the message.

Billboards are, however, a fairly high-dollar item in your marketing budget, with costs running from several hundred dollars to over $1,000 per month with most board companies requiring contracts that last several months or longer. As with any form of marketing, the consideration of whether to do a board or not isn’t really a matter of “what does it cost” but rather “what does it return?” For a billboard, the return typically is measured in the number of “views” or the number of times someone drives by and sees your message. In a high-traffic area, the number of views can be quite substantial, numbering into the thousands per day.

Knowing that boards can be expensive and needing to provide a strong return on your investment, it is critical that the board have very strong graphics and provide a very clear message. The measure of whether you’ve succeeded in developing strong design and messaging for your board is judged by what we call the 70 mile per hour test. Here’s how it works…

Hop into our virtual car and let’s take a road trip to, let’s say, Baton Rouge. (seatbelts on please) So there we are, cruising down I-10 at the posted speed limit of 70 miles per hour, and our eyes are momentarily drawn to the right as we pass a billboard at, you guessed it, 70 miles per hour. Basically that’s about all the time we had to read that board as we whizzed by. It’s roughly equivalent to the time it takes to snap your fingers once. Not a lot of time, is it? But that’s the point.

For a billboard to be effective, our car riders must be able to completely absorb the message, in its entirety, within a very, very compressed time frame. This condition has everything to do with how the message of a billboard is designed. So here are the rules that will help your board pass the test.

1. Less is more. Because boards are fairly expensive, the temptation to “get your money’s worth” by loading the board with twenty bullet points of information is strong. Don’t do it. Keep the message very simple and very easy to understand.
2. Understand that the primary thing a billboard can do for you is create a general awareness that you exist, not necessarily to advertise a specific thing. Sure you can do a board to support your March Madness Sale, but what do you do with the board on April 1st? The point is that boards have a long shelf life and, accordingly, are best used to simply say, “We are here! We are here! We are here!” versus trying to advertise something that has a definite expiration date.
3. Identify yourself immediately. It amazes us how times we see boards that do a beautiful job of conveying a message but relegate the basic brand identity to some small corner of the board. Big mistake. Doing so simply tells the market to do, well, nothing. If you want a good example of strong branding on boards, look for the beer boards. There is absolutely no doubt when you approach these boards that the sponsor is Miller or Bud or whatever because the branding is so dominant. Whether you like beer or not, these boards are a good example of strong branding using billboards.
4. And finally, ask for something. It’s called a “call to action” and you cannot assume that the reader will get it. But don’t forget the 70 mile per hour test. What you ask them to do needs to be very clear and very direct. Good asks include, “Call 800-888-8888 today!” or “www.callusnow.com” or something that the reader can grasp quickly.

Ready to get on board? Give us a call at 985.446.6088 or complete our request form now.

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