Aflac duck turns 20 years old

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NEW YORK (CNN) – It’s been 20 years since the advertising world would debut animal characters that would change the insurance industry.

Geico introduced new advertising in 1999 with the talking gecko many have come to love. The Aflac duck soon followed with its webbed feet and cranky quacking. They’re the forerunners to progressive’s Flo and the Allstate mayhem guy.

The first Aflac duck commercial aired in January 2000. Geico’s gecko debuted a few months before the start of Aflac’s new ad campaign. The pair have since turned insurance commercials into comedic interludes.

Aflac’s CEO Dan Amos, who’s been the head of the company since 1990 told CNN that he’s surprised by the consumer’s reaction with the duck.

“Within three years of the first ad, our sales in the US doubled and our name recognition went from under 10% to around 90%,” Amos said. “We now get texts, emails, and calls from people wanting to wear merchandise with the duck on it. We’ve arrived.”

However, the voice of the animal has been a bit different these days. When he first hatched, his voice was that of Gilbert Gottfried. Aflac fired the actor in 2011 after controversial tweets.

A nationwide search then ensued where more than 12,000 people auditioned for the part. Minnesota radio station sales manager Daniel McKeague has been quacking “Af-lac” ever since.

Now they raise money for pediatric cancer, sell merchandise, and raise awareness for causes with the duck and brand name.

“We were a good company before, but the duck catapulted us into a different category. We have brand recognition like Coke and Nike,” he said. “I never really dreamed I would bet my whole career on a duck, but that’s the way it turned out.”

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