Aflac Goes Into Play

Aflac is putting its account in review, with incumbent The Kaplan Thaler Group, which introduced the brand’s iconic duck mascot a decade ago, choosing not to participate.
The Columbus, Ga., company, America’s largest provider of supplemental insurance, spent $76 million on ads in 2008, per Nielsen. Through the first nine months this year, Aflac has spent $57 million. Those figures do not include online spending.

Select Resources International in Santa Monica, Calif., is conducting the review, sources said.
Publicis Groupe’s Kaplan Thaler launched Aflac’s signature duck character in TV advertising on New Year’s Eve 1999, propelling the then-obscure, family-run company into the pop-culture spotlight.

CEO Dan Amos, the son of one of the three brothers who founded the company, handled the company’s marketing communications and hired Kaplan Thaler. He stepped back from those duties in 2006, when he brought in Aflac’s first CMO, Jeff Herbert, a former Coca-Cola marketer, who was replaced in November 2008 by Jeff Charney, formerly marketing chief at retailer QVC.
It’s been a tough year for Aflac, with its stock hit by concerns about losses in investments amid the global economic crisis, although the company has asserted its balance sheet remains strong. (Aflac’s stock has a 52-week trading range of $10.83 to $47.75 and is now trading around $46.) Aflac derives 70 percent of its sales from Japan, it’s only non-U.S. market, and thanks to a strong yen-dollar ratio, the company reported revenue rose 22.6 percent to $4.5 billion in the third quarter.

“We’re very grateful to The Kaplan Thaler Group for creating such a wonderful icon and we certainly appreciate and respect their talent,” said Aflac representative Laura Kane.
In a statement, Kaplan Thaler explained its choice not to defend a signature account: “We have enjoyed being Aflac’s partner these past 10 years and take tremendous pride in creating the award-winning and highly successful Aflac duck campaign that has catapulted the brand from 11 percent to 95 percent household awareness. Our policy is to not participate in reviews for current accounts. We are pleased to know that the Aflac duck will continue to be the cornerstone of the advertising going forward. We wish Aflac continued success and the very best.”

This is the first major account loss this year for Kaplan Thaler, which has enjoyed a string of wins in ’09, including Napa Auto Parts, Wendy’s and Cascade.

This story updates an earlier item with Aflac’s statement and additional information.