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Behind Aflac’s partnership with country music and its famous duck

When it comes to supplemental insurance brand Aflac, the company wants consumers to know what it isn't. "It isn’t homeowners insurance, or car insurance, or even duck insurance, but we help with expenses health insurance doesn’t cover."

That's a disconnect for a brand that Aflac vice president of brand and creative services, Shannon Watkins, says hovers "at around 90% of all Americans knowing who we are. The reality of it is, not a lot of consumers understand what we do."

The brand may be best known for its quacking duck mascot, but this year it is telling people what the company actually does for them in an 'Aflac Isn't' brand campaign, as well as making strategic ties with the Academy of Country Music (ACM). With that collaboration it is expanding its reach into awards by teaming with rising artists who are doing good in their communities.

Over the weekend, during the ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Aflac had a commanding presence, promoting its ‘Aflac Isn’t’ awareness campaign, but also handing out a co-branded award to Brandon Ray, a musician who has lifted the spirits of kids in hospitals with his songs.

This is the second year for the Aflac ACM Lifting Lives Honor, and according to Aflac, it’s the first time a brand has developed a single partnership honor with ACM.

Ray was recognized for his contributions toward bringing the healing power of music to patients in hospitals across the country as a volunteer with Musicians On Call, a nonprofit organization that brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in health care facilities. Aflac and Pearce delivered the honor in partnership with ACM Lifting Lives – the philanthropic arm of the Academy of Country Music – during the ACM Stories, Songs and Stars event on April 5.

The honor recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions, and the committee from the ACM selects the recipient based on the long-term efforts using their music to make a significant impact in the community – that’s really how we choose the recipient.

“When we think about why we chose Brandon, he’s done so many great things in the community, but he’s also lived through really using the healing power of music to help him on the road to recovery. He really discovered his passion for music while recovering from two foot surgeries after a baseball injury. He actually learned the guitar while helping him on his road to recovery.

“Not only does he do so much in the community but he’s also lived it and can give his personal testimony back to these kids who need the help. When we think about what he does today, he volunteers all the time, he lives in Nashville, he’s been part of Musicians on Call since 2016. One week after the tragedy at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, Brandon joined Musicians On Call in Vegas, visiting families in their time of need,” said Watkins.

The brand took the footage of Ray receiving the award in Las Vegas and playing for kids at the children’s hospital, and worked with Dick Clark Productions and other partner agencies – including media agency Spark Foundry and creative agency Publicis – to turn around an ad in 48 hours to run during the televised awards ceremony.

In addition, Aflac is contributing $50,000 to Musicians On Call through ACM Lifting Lives to help develop and fund music-related therapy and education programs.

Aflac partnered with ACM to both do good and to tie its name with an organization that meets its wide target audience. It had wall-to-red carpet coverage at the ACM Awards, from the Aflac Duck actively posting on social media with behind-the-scenes views of the event, plus the brand even brought an Aflac Help Desk to support the ‘Aflac Isn’t’ campaign where people could pose with the duck. It also partnered with iHeartMedia on an ACM-themed episode, ‘For the Record.’

“In addition to giving us the national platform to share the ‘Aflac Isn’t’ message, our sponsorship of the ACM Awards really allows us to connect with our consumers through music and drive our message home to show consumers that Aflac isn’t what they think it is,” said Watkins.

The 'Aflac Isn't' campaign came at a time of rising healthcare costs, and was designed to erase misconceptions around Aflac.

Watkins said that with the previous campaigns, "a lot of people thought we were homeowners insurance, or car insurance or health insurance, and even in the way we’ve shown up in past advertisements some people thought we were boat insurance...We’re really trying to stay true to that ‘Aflac Isn’t’ message, breaking the misconceptions people may have with this brand and getting them to reconsider how we may play in their lives."

The message focuses on educating consumers on the value of Aflac’s products, but Watkins said that for people to take action, learn more, and eventually apply, it must connect with consumers in a more meaningful way, which is a big reason for its ACM partnership.

Each touchpoint throughout the ACM Awards weekend was an opportunity to leverage the top artists and songs to “forge a unique musical bond with consumers of all ages and backgrounds, who may one day experience a serious illness or injury, and supplemental insurance, like Aflac, can play a big part in the healing process. And that’s why this is so important for us, because it is really bringing our brand to life in meaningful ways through such a great partnership like ACM and through people like Brandon and Carly.”

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