IDEA: The Aflac duck, American advertising's finest feathered friend, is nothing without his distinctive squawk. Or is he? The bird, who's been quacking out the supplemental insurance company's name in ads from Publicis Kaplan Thaler since 1999, has suddenly gone quiet this year thanks to a plot twist in which he's fractured his beak and ended up in hospital—putting him in the position of the company's customers, who need bills paid when they get hurt and miss work. "The duck has become so well known and well liked. We wanted to find a new way to harness that affection," said agency executive creative director Jay Williams. "The thought came to us: The duck is a working actor. This is what he does. He's in commercials, and he talks about the brand. So, we thought there could be a humorous way to make the duck a metaphor for the people Aflac helps." Added Michael Zuna, Alfac's chief marketing and sales officer: "The new commercials will make viewers laugh, but they have a very serious message. If the Aflac duck can get hurt, anyone can get hurt. And that's why everyone needs Aflac."
COPYWRITING: The first spot, which broke Jan. 7, took place at a press conference, where the hospital's top doctor relays news of the accident—sounding much like the duck himself in answering "Aflac" to various questions about the bird's insurance coverage. This second spot, which premiered Sunday on the Grammy Awards, shows the duck in his hospital bed—a bandage on his beak rendering him silent for the first time in his extremely vocal career. The doctor asks a group of residents what they see when they look at him. Their increasingly non-medical answers ("I see the Aflac duck out of work and not making any money") lead to the product pitch, and then the punch line. "I see lunch," says the third resident, as the duck lifts his head in alarm. (Turns out a nurse has simply brought in some food.) Williams said quieting the duck is fresh and surprising. "It could be more attention-getting," he said. "You've come to expect what he's going to say. Now, if you see him and he says nothing, it's an interesting twist." The spot wraps with a hospital curtain pulled across the screen, showing the company logo and URL.
ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Director Baker Smith shot the "Rounds" ad in one day on a soundstage in Los Angeles. The visual look is "bright and accessible" and "not too artsy," said Williams, in keeping with the brand's friendly atmosphere. The agency would not reveal the inner workings of the duck—whether he's animatronic, CGI or both—other than to say it uses different solutions depending on the spot. "He's private when it comes to things like that," said Williams. "He prefers to play it close to his down-filled vest."
TALENT: Frank Woods plays the head doctor. "We loved his look, and he could straddle that 'Is this real or not?' thing," said Williams. "He has a little smile and sense of humor to him that makes it fun to watch." The residents are "representative of what medical staff look like these days," said Williams, and they had the right comic delivery. "They don't play it too broadly," he said. "It's pretty dry and straight."
SOUND: There's not much sound design and no music. But sound does play a key role in "Rounds"—the beeping of the duck's heart monitor suddenly gets frantic after the resident mentions lunch. "We added that in production as a nice subtle touch," Williams said.
MEDIA: The first spot sent viewers to GetWellDuck.com, where 30,000 people made him sympathy cards. The campaign will continue with more ads as the duck makes his recovery.
Agency: Publicis Kaplan Thaler, New York
Chief Creative Officer/President: Rob Feakins
Executive Creative Director: Jay Williams
Creative Director/Copywriter: Larissa Kirschner
Creative Director/Art Director: James Rothwell
Executive Producer,: Anthony Garetti
Account Team: Eric Goodstadt, Vanessa Kopec, Ben Neenan
Production Company: Harvest
Director: Baker Smith
Head of Production, Harvest: Niko Whelan
Executive Producers, Harvest: Bonnie Goldfarb/Rob Sexton
Producer, Harvest: Leslie Owen
Editorial: The Cutting Room
Editor: Chuck Willis
Producer, The Cutting Room: Kristine Polinsky