We’re not sure what it means when one of this country’s largest insurance companies decides that featuring a celebrity chef in their TV ads will help them sell more policies. But Guy Fieri’s appearance on behalf of insurance giant Aflac is telling us a lot about how important food and the people who prepare it have become in popular culture.
Supplemental insurance provider Aflac sells many kinds of policies, but is primarily known for coverage that pays cash benefits directly to the policyholder in the event of a covered accident or illness. That’s unlike a person’s major medical insurance, which pays doctors, hospitals or other medical service providers on the person’s behalf.
The rationale for buying an Aflac policy, typically sold through payroll deduction plans offered by employers, is simple. If someone gets cancer or suffers a stroke, their medical insurance will cover all (or most of) their medical bills. But while the person is recovering, other financial needs continue. The person still has a mortgage, a car payment, credit card debt and other day-to-day expenses that continue, whether the person is able to go back to work or not. Those are the circumstances Aflac insures its policyholders against.
The company has gotten a lot mileage out of its Aflac duck commercials, the first of which appeared in 2000. The duck, voiced by comedian Gilbert Gottfried, has appeared in ads with several types of celebrities over that time. The list of spokespeople includes Wayne Newton, NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, Melania (Mrs. Donald) Trump, NBA star Yao Ming, baseball old-timer Yogi Berra and comedian Chevy Chase.
Now comes Food Network star Fieri, also the host of NBC’s Minute To Win It game show and chef/owner of two California restaurant concepts, Johnny Garlic’s (three units) and Tex Wasabi’s (two locations). In his ad, he’s grilling outdoors while blithely explaining why it’s a good idea to carry supplemental insurance in case you are caught in a bad accident or come down with a serious illness. Meanwhile, the Aflac duck walks across Fieri’s sizzling grill, makes the mistake of downing a red-hot pepper, and then exacerbates the problem by dunking its head in a jar of jalapenos in an attempt to cool off. Good thing the ad makers use computer-generated imagery to insert the duck into the ad: otherwise, PETA would be all over their case.
The Fieri spot is painful to watch, but in a lighthearted way. Yet we can assume that this ad format works, because the company has stayed with it for so long.
Everyone in the restaurant industry should be glad Aflac now thinks that chefs and cooking have become such a big deal that consumers will identify with its high-profile practitioners. The company and its ad agency are telling us that people now see chefs like Fieri as a trusted source for recommendations about serious issues like the aftermath of a car crash, the onset of cancer or recovery from of a stroke. If you were wondering whether the country’s fascination with all things culinary was coming to an end, don’t worry. Guy Fieri doing insurance commercials—boy, that’s telling you it’s just getting started.