In a weekend post, Mr. Peters recalls an event where a participant posed the question “Doesn’t the success of the AFLAC duck prove that advertising works?” Tom goes on, cogently, to say “no”. BUT then he continues to describe how the AFLAC duck is actually a Black Swan.
The logic of a “Black Swan” (a la British Philosopher David Hume) goes like this … “If I’ve only ever seen white swans, does that prove that black swans don’t exist?” The clear answer is no. One can’t infer anything outside of his/her own existence.
I agree that an a priori decision to dump money into advertising based on the success of other individual companies is faulty. Tom likens this to him making a decision to move to Hollywood to try to make it in the movies based on George Clooney’s success. hmmmmm.
What I think was missed here is that the AFLAC duck is NOT just a random event. There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye:
- Although AFLAC’s ad campaign should rightfully be classified as interuptive marketing, they do an exceptional job of rising above the din of other advertisers.
- The emotional connection strategy is one of consistent, well implemented humor. Because of the success of others in this category (e.g. the Budweiser Frogs), there are truckloads of poorly implemented humor campaigns. This archetypical emotional connection of humor is powerful but weak, weanie-humor, however, just doesn’t cut it.
- Linda Kaplan Thaler (the creator of the duck) is an ad genius … one of the best in the business.
- The duck is NOT just a campaign. It’s a complete re-orientation of the company brand. Look at their new logo!
Let’s continue with the Black Swan metaphor. “Because I’ve only seen white swans, I can’t infer that there are no black swans” — true. BUT, if I saw a wide variety of water fowl and the most successful ones were those that thrived in a particular environment AND adapted to the environment in a very particular way, then I could infer that other water fowl (that I have not yet seen) would likely experience similar success. The individual water fowl have not been observed but the behavior and adaptive styles have been observed. So, although I could not infer that black swans exist, I could infer that something LIKE a black swan might exist, based on other observed patterns.
Note: It’s not often that I get to simultaneously demonstrate my lack of philosophy background with my Biology degree in a business blog!
Back to the real world example; No, I would never say “all you have to do to get a successful ad campaign is come up with a funny animal mascot”. What I would say is that if you create a brand with a funny animal mascot, you’ll more likely succeed if you consistently and powerfully tap into the archetypical emotion of humor. How a company would do that is no small feat, to be sure, but the process is not simply a crap shoot.
What I would also NOT suggest is that Tom move to Hollywood. There are already too many George Clooney “wanna be’s” in the world. Keep writing great, authentic business advice Tom and I’ll continue to be one of your greatest fans!