Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The tale of the duck and the dumbbell (Can you figure out which is which?)

There is no more “Madison Avenue.” The street exists, but most of the New York ad agencies were driven off that street long ago by high rent and earnings pressure from the adglomerates that own them. This changed the focus of advertising agencies from their product, the advertising, to their bottom line.

That’s part of the reason why it’s rare these days to have an advertising campaign as great as those created in the golden days of advertising, circa 1960s and 1970s. One exception has been AFLAC and its hyperactive duck.

Created by the Kaplan Thaler advertising agency on Eighth Avenue, the AFLAC duck’s series of misadventures were the kind of commercials you’d stay up late to watch over and over again. Little wonder that the AFLAC Duck created 85 percent brand awareness in the last five years, a result that Advertising Age, the leading publication of the advertising business, calls “phenomenal.” http://adage.com/article?article_id=115039

So what happened? Along comes Jeff Herbert. (His picture is above; in case you haven't figured it out he's the one who's not the Duck.) Jeff Herbert’s title is CMO of AFLAC. That’s Chief Marketing Officer to you. But what he really is, is Elmer Fudd out to shoot a Duck instead of a Wabbit.

Y’see, in violation of the late David Ogilvy’s rule that “the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife,” Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Herbert-Fudd has decided that a moron is exactly what you and your wife are.

According to Advertising Age, “’Our industry is a difficult one for the average consumer to understand,’ Mr. Herbert said. ‘We want to move our brand from being known to owned.’ And that means new creative, new products and a rethinking of the media plan.”

In short, CMO Jeff Herbert-Fudd plans to kill the Duck. Or at least roast its hiney to an unrecognizable crisp.

Well, if CMO Jeff Herbert-Fudd really wants to explain the industry to consumers, which I somehow doubt, there’s no better teacher than the duck. Turn the Duck on and consumers turn on and pay attention. Turn the Duck off and almost guaranteed you’ll have a boring piece of crap advertising.

AFLAC could use the duck in direct mail. Hell, I might read a letter signed by the AFLAC Duck even though I know it’s a sendup. I’d certainly read a brochure in which the Duck walks me through all those new products AFLAC is cooking up to take my money, and explains why I need them and the benefits they'll bring to my life.

Alas! According to what Advertising Age learned, we’re going to have billboards instead, presumably ugly and duck-free billboards. Since billboards rarely contain more than six words, I doubt they'll be able to tell you much about anything.

Consider: AFLAC could create awareness of all those great products CMO Jeff Herbert-Fudd is cooking up in his marketing kitchen just by having the Duck explain them on television. But no.

CMO Jeff Herbert-Fudd, like another dodo named George Bush, can’t get the first rule of success through his head: "If it ain’t busted, don’t fix it." Ignoring the rule is how we got into Iraq. It's also how CMO Jeff Herbert-Fudd is going to shoot down the most successful advertising symbol in decades and help send the company into a tailspin.

Which will probably mean that CMO Jeff Herbert-Fudd will go down in marketing, advertising and AFLAC history as the goose who smashed the golden egg.


The New York Crank said...

An outraged "Bob from Brooklyn," who evidently has committed nearly all the AFLAC advertising to memory, e-mailed this angry comment:

"Very depressing. I am a huge fan of the Aflac duck. I pride myself in catching the little hidden nuances in many of the commercials such as in the Yogi Berra one when the duck walks into the barber shop and stands under the hair style poster and the duck looks like it has hair. Then there was the Chevy Chase commercial in the supermarket and the duck was posed looking like he was part of the Wheaties box. And of course there is the Black guy who is in most of the commercials and he is the only one who sees the duck and there was the Gilbert Gotfried one where he returned the duck to the pet store because it only said one word “Aflac” and of course Gilbert Gotfried is the voice of the Aflac duck. You have totally ruined my day."

Hey Bob, don't blame me. Blame CMO Jeff Herbert-Fudd.

Leib Lurie said...

Several years ago, the story circulated that some low level guy at Aflac was re-programming their auto attendent after some departments were re-organized.

He had a number in the middle left over, so rather than move everything down, he programmed in 'to hear the duck, press 6'. listeners pressed 6, and heard the quack.

Within weeks, hundreds of thousands of people were calling the toll free number every month. The VP Operations fired the guy who programmed in the duck voice for costing the company thousands in uneccessary phone bills for 'people playing around'.

The CEO hired the guy back. kept the quack, and added a commercial blurb after it to spend even more on the phone call!

Maybe that guy was your dumbell? and he just got promoted to his level of incompetence?

if you think that was dumb... how about a car company that discontinues it's top brand names (Taurus) and tries to re-create it from scratch.

The New York Crank said...

And this comment was e-mailed to me by Richard Rosenthal, a New York advertising copywriter and journalist:

"As you speak of the AFLAC duck, I nominate the GEICO ads--god, how many commercials they produce--with an actor (Peter Graves, and that FABULOUS Little Richard) accompanying real people--as wonderful and memorable ads. (The caveman series doesn't do it for me.)"