In praise of a banner ad

aflac banner ad

This post is a review of this banner ad, but clicking on it won’t take you anywhere.

I feel fairly confident this post marks the first time in this blog’s near decade-long history that I’ve written a review of a banner ad.

But first, I have a disclosure. While I have no, none whatsoever, nada, association with the company Aflac, I did, however, grow up eating scrambled dogs (scroll down to Georgia) at the Dinglewood Pharmacy, directly across the street from its headquarters in Columbus, Ga.

With that disclosed, I feel I have enough objectivity to observe a tiny blip in the gigantic advertising efforts of the company that was known as American Family Life Assurance Company (thus, AFLAC) during the era when I was eating those scrambled dogs. Unlike when small companies decide to do it, when large brand-dependent marketing companies shorten their names to initials (IBM) or portmanteaus (FedEx), they realize their customers won’t immediately associate the before-and-after (although FedEx actually followed its customers in shortening its name — I don’t recall Coke’s or Bud’s shortening, but I’m guessing those, too, were customer initiated).

In reality, it often takes years — and untold millions of dollars — for a company to pull off the transition from name to initials. In Aflac’s case, the initials formed an acronym that, when read as a word, sounded to someone like a duck’s quack. Rather than fight it, the company boldly decided to follow an advertising agency’s advice and establish its brand with a massive advertising campaign based on the onomatopoeia of an acronym — and thus, AFLAC became Aflac, and a duck became the quacking pitch man.

Over the 12 or so years of the campaign, we’ve seen the duck evolve from a live duck actor (with Gilbert Gottfried’s voice) playing a crotchety old(?) man(?) (although, I understand that in Japan, the duck has been a kinder, gentler bird) into a more robotic-seeming duck that sometimes, at least to me, seems to drift into the uncanny valley, to a cartoon character that has become a part of Aflac’s logo and the version of the duck affixed to the 99 car in the company’s NASCAR (Nascar?) sponsorship. (Think, Donald Duck with no clothes.)

And then, today, I ran across this banner ad on the Wall Street Journal’s website.

I don’t even know where to begin describing the heroic, stylized interpretation of the Aflac duck that appears in that ad. To me, it’s right up there with the Obama campaign poster, except in this case, Aflac actually owns the intellectual property on which the work is based. And the ad’s approach to using an IAB standard format as a canvas for an animation-free exploration of negative and positive shapes strikes me as a bold declaration that there’s a higher calling for the banner ad than the crap usually jammed into one.

Well done, Aflac. Even though I didn’t click on it, that banner is almost as good as a Dinglewood pharmacy scrambled dog.