Aflac! The Power of a Pitchman

CEO Dan Amus on executive pay, and that famous feathered company mascot.

ByABC News
June 11, 2007, 10:52 AM

June 11, 2007 — -- In the tradition-bound world of insurance companies, every risk is carefully calculated. There's endless talk of liability, premiums and actuarial tables.

But at the headquarters of one insurance giant, in the quiet town of Columbus, Ga., something speaks, or quacks, more loudly: It's Aflac!

Thanks to the famously feathered Aflac pitchman, that white duck who shouts out the company's now familiar name, 90 percent of Americans recognize the name Aflac.The man responsible for hatching that duck is Dan Amos, who has been Aflac's CEO for 17 years.

For Amos, deciding to use the duck was not an easy call, but rather a calculated risk.

"It was definitely a risk, a big risk," he said, "because you were making fun of your name."

Seven years ago a new ad agency came up with something entirely different from the older Aflac ads. After viewing the duck, focus groups loved it, but Amos' fellow CEO friends told him not to roll the dice.

"I tried to explain it to people. I said, 'There's going to be this duck on a park bench and it quacks 'AF-LAC.' People give you the dumbest look you've ever seen," he said. "I said no more, I'm going to run it. If it doesn't work, we're going to pull it and move on."

The ad was an instant megahit and the bird has redefined the company and Amos' wardrobe. These days he wears only duck ties.

"Everybody started giving me duck ties," he said, pointing to his tie. "Like this is a Japanese one -- you can see how traditional it is."

"Some of our agents actually put [a stuffed duck] in the front seat of their car and ride around with it," said Amos, who also collects pop culture references to the duck.

"When Ben Affleck was so popular every time he got mentioned, the Aflac duck got mentioned. So what's [the] difference between the two? The duck has webbed feet, Affleck has a Web page."

Fan mail also came pouring in, including one letter from, the first President Bush, requesting a duck for his dog Millie.

"I send him ducks all the time now," Amos said.

There are even duck rules that Amos and the company abide by.

"I do not eat duck," he said. "Never pate -- never, never, never. I'm not kidding. We don't serve it at meals, at the banquets, nothing."