Lame Duck

We’ve yet to get a ruling from Katherine Harris, but Shoptalk smells a rat—or, actually, a duck—in the online vote tallies for Adweek’s Maddy Awards.

Red flags went up when we saw a huge spike in votes cast in one category—”Best Use of an Animal”—with the Aflac duck getting 95 percent of the total. A little e-sleuthing revealed thousands of ballots with just the single vote for the duck and all other categories blank. Analyzing traffic to our site gave us a clue as to why: Some 2,100 of the 6,500 ballots cast came through the IP address 209.37.4.38, which is part of a block operated—oh, the scandal!—by Aflac itself. They were voting for the duck early and voting often.

Corporate ad manager Al Johnson admits Aflac was alerted to the contest by its agency, The Kaplan-Thaler Group in New York. He says a memo went out as a standard procedure, but just to tell employees the duck was nominated—not necessarily to spur them to action. “With the success of the duck, his popularity with the public, our employees want to know what’s going on,” Johnson says. “There wasn’t any conscious effort to say, Hey, go out and vote.”

Even without the spamming, the duck would have won. Still, our Webmaster won’t let it go. He wonders if there wasn’t a more pointed directive from Aflac brass. “Two thousand people, and no one even wanted to click on which celebrity is the most annoying?” he says. “You can’t beat a Nixonian plot and a Clintonian spin.”