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The Object is to Glorify the Brand, Not the Advertising Guys

By: John Malmo

John Malmo began an advertising agency on a cardtable above a delicatessen in 1967 and built it into the largest in the mid-south. He also owned a travel agency, a clock shop, and a snack food manufacturing company. He is president of Koenig, Inc., Management Consulting, specializing in marketing, and he writes a weekly business commentary column for The Commercial Appeal. His 45 years of marketing experience encompass, virtually, every business category. Email him at:

They're laughing about the TV commercial with cowboys herding cats then a guy mentions the one in which a man leaps off his dresser onto the mattress, thereby propelling his wife through the ceiling.

Somebody asks if they remember what brands they advertise. "Duh."

Nothing in advertising is harder than making a commercial that interests viewers, delivers a strong benefit of the brand, and makes it impossible to forget the advertiser. Yet, it's the essence of the difference in advertising and entertainment.

The late, famous Bill Bernbach said, "You can't bore people into buying your product." So, ad guys don't want to bore. That's why so many go for entertainment at the expense of brand awareness.

One survey showed that less than one percent of viewers remembered any dot-com that ran zany spots in the 2000 Super Bowl.

Most such commercials are a funny 25-second story with the advertiser's logo pasted onto the last five seconds. You could stick a competitor's logo on most of them and nobody'd know the difference.

So, when a campaign comes along that cements the advertiser's name to good advertising it's big medicine. Such a campaign is Aflac's. The one with the frustrated, white duck.

Aflac is one of those alphabet-soup names that stands for American Family Life Assurance Company, and it ain't easy to create advertising that can make Aflac memorable.

Aflac's is great advertising because its concept emanates from the brand name. Two people talk about the benefits of Aflac. Neither knows the Aflac name. So, the duck keeps yelling, "AFLAC!"

Since the duck, unaided awareness of Aflac advertising has tripled, and, when asked, 24 percent of the people even quacked "Aflac," according to Aflac advertising manager, Al Johnson. Total brand awareness is up from 71 to 87 percent.

In 2000 the company's sales increased 28 percent in a flat insurance market, and agent recruitment rose 20 percent.

The brand has been made so memorable that it creates free media buzz. On Monday Night Football, Dennis Miller said that a wobbly pass that looked like a duck in flight "oughta be yelling A-F-L-A-C."

Maybe it's common to insurance. Another successful campaign in which the brand name is the object of the advertising is for Wausau Insurance, with the Wausau, WI, train station, and the admonishment that it's not "Warsaw."

If consumers can't remember the advertiser, what good is clever, funny, or even interesting advertising?

Even brands with enormous awareness still build commercials around brand identity. Polar bears drink from a Coke bottle for most of the 30 seconds. Three frogs croak "Bud-wei-ser." You can't slap a Pepsi or a Coors logo on the end of those commercials.

Aflac advertising is a solid investment because it is linked indelibly with the brand, and it has created an icon that can fly anywhere for years. It's the brand, "Stupid." Not the advertising.

© Copyright 2001, John Malmo

Other Articles by John Malmo

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