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You're quackers: Aflac determined to find next duck voice

duck voiceSure, anyone can quack the word “Aflac,” but can you create “innovative and original quacking that helps consumers understand how Aflac is different from major medical insurance”? That’s what Aflac is looking for, according to its job description.

More than 150,000 people have visited Monster.com or the quackaflac.com site, and more than 5,100 people auditioned for the role online for a one-week period that ended April 1.

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Aflac, which is holding a limited number of live auditions in six cities this week, launched the search after firing duck-voiced comedian Gilbert Gottfried for making jokes about the tsunami in Japan. Aflac insures about one in four Japanese households and more than 35,000 payroll accounts at companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The auditions may sound like silly business, but for Aflac the bird is serious money. Since introducing the duck in commercials in 2000, the company’s brand recognition rose from slightly more than 10 percent to today’s 93 percent.

Aflac sells supplemental insurance policies, such as accident, critical illness, cancer and short-term disability insurance.

Walks like a duck . . .

Competition for the duck-voice job is fierce – and applicants are wildly divergent. Early online auditions included those from a 12-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl, a 93-year-old woman and a parrot.

In its casting call, the company says it will judge candidates on their ability to communicate “an entire vocabulary in one word, ‘Aflac.’” Grunting, groaning and muttering in a duck voice are OK, but no words other than the company name are allowed, and auditions are limited to no more than 30 seconds.

On top of that, you have to like ducks, or at least view them as valuable colleagues. Among the job’s core competencies:  “Has a collaborative spirit, especially when it comes to working with ducks.”

“We wouldn’t want someone who’s squeamish about holding a duck at public appearances,” says Aflac spokesperson Laura Kane. “He’s a nice duck, but I’ve seen some people who can be very intimidated.”

There is only one true Aflac duck, but there are also a number of “stunt ducks” who work with an animal trainer and fill in when the star isn’t up to the task.

Just like people, Kane says, “some ducks work more determinedly than others.”

Duck voices pour in

Working behind the scenes are the folks at Kaplan Thaler Group, the New York-based advertising agency for Aflac. As online auditions poured in last week, they listened to about 200 30-second duck impressions an hour. Casting agents will hear live auditions in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Las Vegas; Los Angeles and New York. Ten lucky ducks then will audition by satellite or in the Big Apple.

“It’s the kind of job a lot of people think they can do,” says Kane. “But I would not try out in a million years.”

More from Barbara Marquand here

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