MediaVillage's Insider InSites podcast on Media, Marketing and Advertising
Insider Insights Epi 8 - Gail Gallupo, CMO, AFLAC
Sep 26, 2017 · 33 min
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E.B. Moss: I'm here onsite at Spark Foundry with Gail Gallupo, Senior Vice President and CMO of Aflac. , and I hear a little rasp in your throat – you had a big day yesterday?

Gail Gallupo: Yes, we had an amazing day - a partnership between Disney ABC and Aflac as well as Spark Foundry – It was an exciting time.

Moss: Gail, let’s start with your very interesting background, having worked in so many different marketing related roles. You were at Hewlett-Packard, you were at Western Union, Standard Chartered... What was your favorite?

Gallupo: I am one of these people that I love every job that I've done. In the end, I want to focus on the consumer understanding the consumer. I am a global citizen; when I was at Western Union I covered 202 countries and territories. So I've visited about 70 countries. And as a serial learner I just love to get into the environment, into the culture and really study the consumers and what drives them. What trends are happening and what motivates them to engage with a brand... so that to me is really something that just turns me on. And I've been able to bring all of that experience to  Aflac and really help them elevate the brand - not that I have to do much to do that with this iconic duck - but really elevate the brand and help consumers understand the importance of what Aflac products are.

Moss: Well let's start with that - what AFLAC is. I looked this up - American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus. So tell me what Aflac does.

Gallupo: Aflac is an amazing company, founded by three brothers over 60 years ago with a great entrepreneurial spirit -- visionaries that built an insurance company to help people in a  time of need, but to preserve their lifestyle. And I am very honored to be able to work for this company and bring this idea to a whole new level in 2017.

Moss: And you've already done some impressive things in 18 months. But let’s start with you the person. Tell about ‘a day in the life’.

Gallupo: I get up pretty early and my husband, actually a stay at home dad who helped me raise our three children, makes me a fruit smoothie and I'm off to work. There're meetings creative sessions. I tend to be kind of innovative inspirational as well as I love to work with people who can help drive creativity and ideas. So I don't sit in my office; most the time I'm out on the floor working with my team members, sitting in their cubicles talking about great ideas and how we can elevate the brand and drive sales of Aflac.

Moss: Well it sounds like you've already done quite a few of those things. And you came to this from the retail sector, the finance sector, education, technology...

Gallupo:  A lot of people have really questioned my track. A lot of people will stay within a certain industry and then they'll move up their career in an industry. I've decided to stay within a functional track. So product management, marketing, advertising... but I've switched to several different industries. I love being able to experience new things learn about new technologies, learn about different cultures, and continue to add that to my tool kit to help me better understand and better market for whomever I'm working for.

Moss:   There are a lot of challenges facing CMOs now and you really have to stay current. So, how do you stay current right now?

Gallupo:                 I work with people like Spark Foundry and their innovation lab. I also have a muse. I also am very...

Moss: Did you say you have a muse?

Gallupo: ...I have a muse. Yes...

Moss:  I love it. Is it like a digital native Muse? I heard that's the way to go.

Gallupo: No. She's been with me for over 20 years and is just one of the most creative people I've ever met. And so together we stay on top of trends. I'm constantly reading and very engaged in the startup community, so I feel like that helps me understand what's going on.

Technology's moving quickly, you have to stay on top of that. But one thing that's very important to me is not to not to miss what happens from a human aspect and understanding segments and subsegments. You know everybody's talking about the Millennials for the last 10 years...and now many people are talking about Gen Z - but at Aflac, we're not generational - we don't define our audiences by generations or age but we do by a mindset.

Moss: Interesting and that will start to inform why you did this campaign with Disney ABC. But to that point about having a wide ranging background, Gail, you also have, like, 11 patents!? Are any of them anything that if you described it I would understand it?

Gallupo: Oh absolutely. When I was at G.E....I was working with client J.C. Penney and I was looking to develop a value proposition on repackaging and branding of the private label credit card. A lot of people still carry private level – or affinity - credit cards ...usually for a big-ticket purchase. And I wanted to have people bring that card out more frequently. So we designed a feature (the muse was part of it!) for a credit card that was never done before at the time: It was a tax rebate. ...A certain spending level on the J.C. Penney credit card would be tax free. The retailer at that time - and many retailers today - are very heavy into discounts.  So you see a 10% discount ...even as high as a 20 % discount rate. But if you look at the United States blended sales tax rate, it was only at that time about 7 percent. So actually, they would be giving out less margin on their business if they gave a tax rebate versus a discount. A lot of work was done with consumers to study this: and the consumers went wild. It hit an emotional chord like, you know “I'm going to screw the IRS I'm going to get my you know I'm not going to pay taxes on my purchases”. And it was just phenomenal that we ended up patenting that idea.

Moss:Amazing. And you also did a lot of innovative work with a company that you started, BankersLab. I know you're still on the board of that - and this also sort of ties in to everything you're doing currently. If I understand it correctly you used simulation and gaming to educate financial services employees.

Gallupo: That's exactly right. We started the company after the financial crisis [when] we saw that people were pointing fingers, blaming others on why it happened, but nobody was making any real changes in the banking industry. We built this company to teach people that it's not about just pulling credit back or just mitigating risk because you won't grow. or growing at the expense of profits and therefore shareholders. We've innovated around data and gamification and put this training into actually doing. And we've had phenomenal results in terms of our post training efficacy and that people learn better when they DO. And that's what our simulations do: You work out what-if scenarios. And your goal is to make a profit. ...We use a gaming methodology called scaffolding and each round gets tougher and tougher. So anyway sorry about [going on] – this is a great passion. It's a great brand, a great product and it’s about bringing data and innovation together.  And that's my sweet spot. I love that.

Moss: Well, there's a big trend now for CMOs to actually have to be CTMOs. Do you think that everyone needs to be as right brain/left brain as you are, or is there still room for us right brainers in the room?

Gallupo: Wow that's a great question. To be CMO if, let's say, you are very creative right brain, you want to make sure that you really are able to serve your customers, then surround yourself with the people that are have the skill set you don't have to know everything. From my experiences, just make sure you have team members that complement the areas that you might not be the most knowledgeable in.

Moss:  It seems like Aflac has a reputation for surrounding itself with good people as well. Some of the accomplishments at the company just even talking about the year that you've been there: Fortune named it a Top 100 place to work for Millennials -- and has  ranked it for 19 years running -- as one of the best companies to work for in America. Ethisphere named it one of the world's most ethical companies...And, a big sweet spot for MediaVillage: we appreciate that it's been touted as a diverse company by Black Enterprise and Latina magazines. ...These are really important considerations for your human capital; we know that Millennials and Gen Zs are really focused on socially responsible companies. So as we move into how you're marketing Aflac, how do you tout those important aspects to the consumer?

Gallupo: It’s not about touting. It's about providing brand ex [experience], or walking the talk. And that's what Aflac does. Our consumers don't want another big company touting that they're the best at this, or they've been around for this many years, and getting all that bravado out about the company: They want somebody who can connect with them, knows them and speaks to them. And it's really our actions that have helped us get those awards, because we have an amazing CEO Dan Amos for 28 years. He also was listed as one of the top 100 CEOs worldwide. He is a marketer at heart and everything he does is with the heart. We follow his lead and we are, what we call at Aflac, "caring innovators".  That's really what we believe the brand stands for - is that we care for our policyholders and even consumers, and we will go out of our way and put something in place even if it might not be the most financially sound move for us.

I don't mean to say that we're wasting money but for example: We introduced one-day pay and one of our sales leaders asked why we’d pay in one day when we pay an average of four days. Our CEO said we're not doing it to save money. We're doing it because when someone's in need they need the money immediately. It matters when you're in your time of need. And that's why we win these awards.

Moss: There's a history of confusion around what Aflac does. And one-day pay sounds pretty important because as I understand it you're the largest provider of supplemental insurance in the United States Tell me - because we all know the sound of the Aflac duck - how you have moved the company to have people understand what Aflac is versus the knowing the sound of its name.

Gallupo: Very great observations, and even today... there are people that don’t even know what “supplemental” or voluntary insurance is. The second problem we have is that they think that ‘I don't need it because it's voluntary’ but it’s quite the opposite. They really do need it. So, I've set as a mission with my team to drive that understanding.

So, with Publicis Seattle we launched a new campaign to really get at what is the lasting effects of injury or illness and how this can impact your life and what we want to do is we want to advocate for a healthy lifestyle.  We want to embrace our customers’ experiences and lifestyles that they want to live. We don't judge people we don't say well you shouldn't do that and you should save for this. But we just want to make sure that they understand that they have an opportunity to protect that lifestyle by buying Aflac insurance. So our campaign that we launched on Thanksgiving of last year was called The Ripple Effect and it showed that by having an accident it might change the course of your life. Our first commercial - a young man had a ski accident, broke his leg and the ski patrol came up to him and said "wow that looks like moving back in with your parents injury." And he is like, "why? Wait - I thought I broke my leg?" and he goes oh no that's a full-on move in the basement.  So the idea is that this gentleman didn't have Aflac and he would be out of work and he wouldn't be able to pay his rent. And that is the consequences that he would have to move in with his parents until he got back on his feet. So that's what we're trying to do is put it into just language that people understand scenarios that people understand - that there is an option there to help them overcome these things and keep their lives on track. 

Moss: Got it. And Publicis has been your agency of record for quite a few years and in fact helped originate the doc. I think it was Kaplan Thaler about 20 some years ago...

Gallupo: 17 years this December that the duck was introduced.

Moss:  Oh so he's a Gen Z! So now we're here at Spark Foundry because of another way to communicate the brand message using the Aflac duck. And -- I don't know if I can say this: there's a little frog in your voice because of the duck.

Gallupo: Right. I was quacking all day yesterday ....

Moss: So yesterday was the premiere of your newest sponsorship with Disney ABC Television. And it was with Disney XD. Tell us about that.

Gallupo: Well we're just so pleased to be able to partner with Disney ABC on their new series DuckTales or new reboot.  It's the 30 year anniversary of just beloved characters and we just felt like this was just the most amazing synergy in terms of what we stand for at Aflac, the idea and activities or adventures of the characters in DuckTales. So anybody who you know grew up in the 80s are so attached to the series and we just felt it was a great great synergy between Aflac and Disney ABC --and this sponsorship to help as you said re-injure introduce this. This is a fantastic show and to integrate the Aflac duck as the Aflac duck really does symbolize this idea of adventure experiences and protecting your lifestyle so you can live the life you love.

Moss:  ...Because they are always having these crazy adventures and they could be like the skier who broke his leg and nobody wants to move in with Uncle Scrooge. 

Gallupo: Exactly right.

Moss:  OK. So, describe the creative the campaign.

Gallupo: Well I couldn't be more pleased. Again, our partners and us working together with Spark and with Disney ABC they did an integration with good morning America. So, the Aflac duck was on the show with Ginger Zee who was a huge sales fan. And then we were able to take the duck and have him shopping at the Disney flagship store here in New York. 

Moss:                       Like the real duck? You didn't like CG this -- he was there? 

Gallupo:                 He was on Good Morning America, he was in the Disney store buying merchandise.

Moss:                       Did he have a little affinity card?

Gallupo:                 He did not have cash...I think they were just so excited to see him in the store that our friends at Disney picked up his tab. And the staff there were fantastic - top notch in terms of helping the AFLAC duck pick out his merchandise. He is a celebrity.

Moss: That's true. And I watched the sneak peek of the way it's integrated so as I understand it you're not running an Aflac spot within DuckTales; you're the sponsor of it and then he is incorporated into the animation through the actual duck sitting watching TV and then in his little mind's eye he's transported into an animated character right then and hangs out with Huey, Dewey and Louie...

Gallupo:  That's right. And Disney actually did the animation. And we were just so pleased how it came out. He was a natural fit. And this commercial introducing DuckTales and showing Aflac as a sponsor aired for the first time yesterday during GMA and the audience went wild. Everybody was singing the DuckTales song and incorporating Aflac in the song.

Moss:                       How did this idea come about? I mean I'm sitting in the tech innovators office here at Spark Foundry but I know that Disney has some props for being creative too. So how did this idea come about. Did all three entities sit together at the table and brainstorm did spark founders bring it to you. Did Disney say Hey have we got an idea for you because those guys have an amazing integrated marketing team too.

Gallupo:Absolutely. They're extremely creative. They're bringing creative ideas data in research investment strategy to us. But we have a great relationship with Disney ABC through Spark and Disney actually approach Spark and talked about this revival of DuckTales. And asked them to actually come to Aflac and see if we would be interested in a partnership because they felt like the brand stood for so many things that Disney stands for - as well as specifically the DuckTales story and characters and then Spark came to us and then it was a collaboration session to see how do we bring this to life.

Moss:  Must've been funniest day at work ever. Now, it's not the most intuitive target viewers - sponsoring a kid's show.

Gallupo: It's because of their parents and we've seen the reaction to the announcement that DuckTales was coming back, the voices behind the characters -- very very well known and very current in terms of celebrity. And we really wanted to talk to the parents and we knew that the parents would be sitting there with their children. And I wanted them to think about while they're watching this show and enjoying that experience with their kids, because they're experiencing their childhood with their children as it was just watching the show nostalgia. But to understand that you know they can protect those lifestyles and if something were to happen to them or someone in the family that they don't have to go through financial toxicity and change the course of their lifestyle, and so that's kind of how we tie to this.

Moss: Aflac also does a lot to help children's causes -

Gallupo: Aflac is very passionate about our social purpose, which is pediatric cancer. And as a matter of fact, this is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and we have just launched the Aflac Childhood Cancer campaign.  And we are for the first time going to be fundraising for this very important cause, and people can buy merchandise on our Web site and all net proceeds will go towards funding medicine or treatments for pediatric cancer.

Moss: And I think there's even an Aflac duck on the site that you can buy -- a little Plushy.

Gallupo:                 Yes. And he's a superhero duck and he has the yellow ribbon - the symbol of childhood cancer awareness. It's really really important.

Moss:                       Now, do you ever get jealous of the success of the duck. Because I have to say, @AflacDuck is kind of beating the time of @Aflac by about two to one in Twitter followers.

Gallupo:                 And that's the strategy. We are so so lucky to have a timeless icon.  And since he can't talk he can't get into trouble! He's just this celebrity that people love that just is so much to the heart of our brand, but our Aflac Facebook page is a little bit more corporate. We're you know we're very proud of the content but we manage them both very carefully: We're trying to connect more people and if they feel more comfortable connecting to Aflac duck and that means we can educate them on what Aflac actually is I'll take it all day long.

Moss:                       Got it. So you've got the recall, you've got the awareness. You also I believe had said that you have to be kind of picky about where Aflac duck appears. You know there are certain lizards in the world of commercials that appear everywhere. Yes. So what are the thresholds what will you let them do because I mean he's been in the movie "Up," he's been on the red carpet, at the Grammys and now on GMA...  What are the limitations?

Gallupo:                 We really are a family oriented brand. And for that we aren't going to put the duck in any provocative or risky situations; it's a family icon. It will appear in more family oriented shows like on Disney ABC. And we're now doing cinema advertising and we're very particular about which shows and previews that the duck will appear in the theaters. And so you'll never see him in R rated movie; we just keep it very family oriented.

Moss:  That's interesting because there's a lot of brand extensions now that are happening with cinema advertising as well - trying to take it online and follow the consumer as well. So what are the other media extensions that you're looking to embrace? For example, we're in the golden age of audio and you have such a memorable sonic brand. (I have to do it.  "AFLAC!" OK.  It had to be done.) People see you have such a memorable sound with that. How much are you embracing audio or the whole Alexa thing.

Gallupo:  You know we're definitely piloting with all the new technologies.  We feel that there's opportunity with [smart speakers] and the personal assistants. We're actually doing a lot of testing with beacons and being able to send messages to a mobile device. And I'm really excited about that opportunity because our agents go to big employers and it's not always easy to see or communicate open enrollment to all those employees. And what began to allow us to do is to put up your typical or just put a little beacon in a corner and be able to communicate to where folks are: they're on their phone constantly they're checking text messages they're on messenger. And this gives them an opportunity to actually be in the space that they're at at that time. And so we're really excited about that. And then also chat: with Facebook Messenger having over 1.2 billion active users, and WhatsApp -  we feel very strongly that this is going to be something that's an opportunity to get into a natural conversation with a consumer.

Moss:                       Last question, Gail: looking into your personal crystal ball what is your projection for not only how you might move the brand forward but how other brands really need to embrace all of this fractionalization.

Gallupo:                 Well I can speak for Aflac, and I'm just excited, my team is so excited, we are introducing a new brand strategy. We are really going to leverage on what has already been developed this past year in terms of encouraging consumers to live a healthy lifestyle. What you'll see is that we will want to change the category and move away from supplemental or voluntary and show people that you know it's very important to have medical coverage which just is important to have lifestyle coverage. So wanting to bring this up from kind of a secondary to an equal-to medical coverage. So that's big for us. And then as I mentioned to your earlier E.B., brand [experience] and so it's not just all about advertising those things we just talked about from innovation. That's not you know just an ad to a consumer. That's about engaging and driving a brand act and the way that I describe it at Aflac is it's not innovation for the sake of innovation, because every new tech company is running out there and doing stuff... what we do at Aflac is purposeful innovation and that we are at the center of what we do as being a caring innovator. So we're very purposeful about what we innovate and how we innovate and where we bring this to life through Brand X. So that's what you'll be seeing from Aflac are more things like that...and more and more fantastic integrations like we had here with Disney ABC and DuckTales and with Spark Foundry and where it makes sense for our consumers and makes sense for us and how we can really get our brand out there.

Moss: This was really really insightful and I think you’ve just converted a new customer.  

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