In Praise of a Minor Web Feat

[February 20, 2010] 

[Though Aflac’s site design has changed, the thinking behind it, reflected here, is much the same]

Is there anything more boring than insurance—that is, unless you’re an AIG field rep? Last year’s horror show aside, as a topic it’s one of the more potent sleep aids known to man—with the snores starting long before you get to the fine print.

My confidence in this as a consensus point enables me to make a leap of faith and suggest that this is the reason Geico and Aflac use anthropomorphic animals as celebrity spokes creatures. The one, a talking lizard, doles out common sense in the affable tone of an emotionally centered, rational adult. The other, a talking duck, is a bit less wordy but still more articulate than many a former US president.

Like an eight ounce glass of water in a desert, they make the unbearable bearable, if only for a moment. As such, they cross over from mere advertising to become a branded experience. In digital space, Aflac has found an especially engaging way to continue that experience and, in the process, exploited the medium’s potential as few comparable sites do.

It’s not about the duck, although that avian presence, discreetly animated, does help set the tone. Rather, the site succeeds because of the effective way it stages its messaging. Here, interactive flash development, combined with a beautifully backlit color palette, create an environment that grows directly out of the basic building blocks of digital technology.

The total effect is something no other medium can achieve, giving users a new way to read. While conveying all the information needed to make the sale, it does so outside of traditional text-slab-and-jpeg tabling.

The site is equally remarkable for borrowing bits and pieces from gaming design without losing focus. Nowhere, even in the serious fun of the interactive quiz, does the user experience stray from its one and only purpose: enticing you to sign up. And while we’re on the subject of enticement, one of the most successful aspects of the site is its sense of humor.

By that I mean it succeeds precisely because its humor is neither a bad imitation of faded standup comedy stars nor the smudgey xerox of underground social commentary found in South Park or The Family Guy. Instead, the site’s humor expresses itself through a quiet understanding of the struggles of everyday life. Like Daffy Aflac, we’re all straining to be heard over the din of mundanity that surrounds us.

But the site mines this vein more deeply and, in fact, this view of life emerges as the brand’s “deep structure.” What we all need, Aflac wants us to know, is something to fall back on when life—as it will—goes all screwy. Enough of denial, it seems to say, enough of the cowboys and hardboiled dames of the last century. When there’s trouble, it’s OK to quack about it and, more importantly, to prepare.

In fact, the site’s messaging strategy has been thought through—and felt— so thoroughly that even on the grittiest of drilldown pages, the spirit of the home page prevails.

A significant part of site’s success, as I see it, lies in the staging and pacing of the text. In a marvelous confluence of proportion, color and weighting, the eye always knows where to look. Besides, even the scariest percentage points look good enough to eat. One emerges from the experience with the feeling that, arcane as the backend number crunching might be, the product is accessible, practical, “doable.”

Now, I’m in no position to evaluate Aflac’s brand promise. What I know about actuarial tables would fit inside a gnat’s whisker with room to spare. But I do know this modest site opens a window onto what the digital experience could become—once more brands transcend the tattered legacy of print, TV and telemarketing and have the courage to strike out into fresh territory.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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