Business

Aflac gets top billing in Atlanta NASCAR race

HAMPTON, Ga. - Paul Amos II previewed the 34th commercial for the Aflac duck on Friday at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Airing during Sunday's telecast of the Kobalt 500 NASCAR race, the commercial is the first tied to the supplemental insurance company's sponsorship with Roush Fenway Racing and its driver Carl Edwards.

"This guy really put us on the map," Amos, president of the Aflac insurance unit of Aflac Inc., said. "We believe our sponsorship with Roush Fenway and NASCAR was a great choice, but we never dreamed how good a choice it would be with Carl — the hottest driver in NASCAR."

Aflac will be his primary sponsor for eight races this season. Sunday's race at AMS is the first and it comes with Edwards riding a two-race winning streak. As the primary sponsor, the duck gets to ride on the hood of the racecar, instead of hanging on to the rear fender.

"I'm extremely excited," Amos said. "Carl is coming off two straight wins. We're launching our newest commercial with Carl. We've got the Aflac Cancer Center in Atlanta and a number of employees in the Atlanta area. And we're taking 500 employees from the worldwide headquarters to the race on Sunday.

"We couldn't be more thrilled. This is the ideal situation for us."

Edwards said it was fun making the commercial, although he did find feathers in his racing suit on the second day of filming.

"It's really going to be fun to be involved with Aflac," he said. "They do a lot of really good things for good people."

He said he got to meet and shake hands with more than 800 Aflac associates over the winter. "I'm very excited. Hopefully we can make it three in a row this weekend and get Aflac a win. I'm really excited about the partnership."

The commercial isn't the only thing new for Columbus-based Aflac this weekend.

After the press conference, Edwards left to go practice in his newly painted Ford Fusion. The car's hood is painted an electric lime green with metal flakes and has the Aflac logo on top. Along the sides, a two-tone blue swoosh of a feather hosts a white No. 99 and another visage of the company spokesduck.

"I think it will stand out," Amos said. "We think the duck is unique, Alfac is unique and the car is unique."

Last season, Aflac entered the NASCAR sponsorship world, running as Greg Biffle's primary sponsor four four races and as the sponsor in the then-Busch series races with other Roush Fenway drivers. Aflac had four different paint schemes for those races, blending the Aflac logo with the other sponsors of the various drivers. Amos said that helped company officials learn about what looked good — and got attention — on the track amid a full field of brightly adorned racecars.

"We were able to gain some experience last year with day races and night races," Amos said. "We honed in on this one and we believe we hit the home run with it."

Aflac spokesperson Laura Kane said the company looked at several designs for the car. Once all had decided on green, they took four shades of green and painted metal swatches to be able to look at them in sunlight, at twilight and under a variety of lighting conditions.

"I'm hoping a year from now it's known as Aflac Racing Green," Amos said.

It's not just the primary colors that Aflac has been paying attention to. For the other 28 races that Aflac is an associate sponsor, it still wants to have its logo to be noticed.

"When you're the primary sponsor, you have a lot more latitude," Amos said. "When we're the secondary sponsor, we have a lot less control. We've changed our secondary logo twice this year."

At the season-opening races in Daytona, Fla., the Aflac logo's blue lettering was applied directly to the Office Depot red rear fenders on Edwards' car. Amos said it just didn't stand out enough. Now, the logo has a white background.

WHY GETTING NOTICED MATTERS

Drawing attention to the car is part of a three-pronged marketing plan for Aflac. NASCAR demographics show their fans are about 60 percent male and 40 percent female. Amos said that 70 percent of the decisions made around the types of insurance products it sells are made by women. And NASCAR has the second-highest number of female viewers in all of sports. And Kane said 17 of the 20 highest-attended sporting events last year were NASCAR races.

"We know NASCAR fans are extremely loyal and especially the female fans," Amos said. "They are three times more likely to purchase products from sponsors."

So, getting the Aflac name in front of fans is the first part of the plan.

"First and foremost, we're speaking to the consumer," Amos said. "We're raising the awareness of the Aflac name."

The hope is that those fans go back to their work places and ask about Aflac policies.

Part two is taking prospective clients to the tracks to enjoy the event, but also to talk about including Aflac supplemental insurance policies in their offerings to employees.

The third part of the plan is some business-to-business elbow rubbing with other NASCAR sponsors and invite them to become Aflac customers. That's why Aflac also is NASCAR's exclusive supplemental insurance provider through 2010.

IT'S MORE FUN WHEN YOU WIN Since last summer, when Aflac ventured into racing, Aflac officials, including Chief Executive Officer Dan Amos, said the company wasn't in NASCAR to win races. All said it was about business, expanding its brand and its reach to consumers. Paul Amos said that was the plan going into the deal.

"Let's not kid ourselves," he said. "That's a great statement to make when you haven't won three of seven races at the Sprint Cup level. It's a lot more fun to have your name talked about all week when there are pictures of the car and Carl Edwards out there all week."

Aflac sells 11 different supplemental insurance policies in Georgia and Alabama, including cancer, dental, hospitalization, vision, short- and long-term care, and accident.

Even NASCAR drivers can buy an accident insurance policy, with one caveat — they aren't covered while being paid to participate in a dangerous event.

AFLAC AT THE RACES

Aflac will be the primary sponsor on Carl Edwards' No.99 Ford Fusion for eight races in 2008:

March 9, Atlanta Motor SpeedwayApril 6, Texas Motor SpeedwayApril 12, Phoenix International RacewayJune 8, Pocono SpeedwayJuly 5, Daytona International SpeedwayJuly 27, Indianapolis Motor SpeedwayAug. 31, California SpeedwayOct. 11, Lowe's Motor Speedway, Charlotte

More about Aflac's partnership with Roush Fenway and NASCAR can be found at aflacracing.com

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