AFLAC: Yes, our name quacks
New: The duck-based logo (and lower-cased
Launched: December 2, 2004
Story in brief:
It was founded in 1955 as American Family Life Insurance
(changed, some time later, to Assurance) Company.
In 1990, because some 200 other insurance companies used "American
Family" in their names and because "American" had become a mixed
blessing for (yes) the largest life insurer in Japan but most
importantly because names longer than five syllables will always
be somehow shortened in actual use, it was decided to
feature the communicative name insiders were of course already using: "AFLAC." So the logo
with the little blue family appeared.
It soon became apparent that to outsiders, as a name AFLAC is odd-sounding and awkward,
which made it hard to build awareness, not to say
respect. So: change it? or tough it out?
AFLAC sweated this for ten years. Then in 2000, ad agency
Kaplan Thaler said "we can make it work, "
and developed outrageously funny commercials in which an
intrusive white duck answers "AFLAC" to the question "What was
that insurance...?" In three years brand awareness grew from 12%
to 90%. "We hit a home run," says Aflac's advertising/ branding
VP Al Johnson.
But by 2004, sales gains were slowing. Having secured awareness,
it was time to move toward information and persuasion; a brand
renewal would provide a helpful trigger event. FutureBrand
designed an appropriately intrusive duck, whose presence
curiously enables Aflac advertising to move on now to the more
sales-driven campaign idea, "Now Matters." (In text, as in the
logo, AFLAC changes to Aflac, to help secure its acceptance as a
name rather than an acronym.)
CEO - Dan Amos
Identity counsel & design - FutureBrand
The old logo was an embarrassment, essentially undesigned,
speaking poorly of Aflac quality and degrading materials it
appeared on. But its little blue family did convey a sense of
AFLAC's corporate purpose.
The new mark is a pronounced improvement, with or without the
duck (which must however seem quite odd, in countries that don't see
Aflac advertising). It's friendlier, and simply
better-designed, even though the duck butts into the wordmark and interferes with its legibility.
Everyone loves those commercials; my own favorite is the
ongoing character privileged to notice the talking duck, and giving us
But pause, and consider. The duck was created to make the best of a
bad name. The duck said "We know, it sounds like 'quack,'
but just call us AFLAC anyway (and don't worry about what it
means)." One wonders; did anyone think about a name change?
(See Assurant for an example of an opportunity-enhancing name
change.) It might
have enabled advertising with greater focus on product
benefits than on its own cleverness. On the other hand... we would
have missed out on those great commercials.
Net result -- a new logo predicated on an advertising campaign.
Since brand identities usually outlast advertising campaigns, this
is worrisome. In due course the duck may lose both relevance and
impact and can then fade away (or be replaced), leaving a perfectly
serviceable wordmark. But for now at least, it works. I will admit that
sometimes, advertising trumps identity.