A Scorpion, a Frog and an Aflac Duck

By now you’ve heard that Aflac insurance fired comedian Gilbert Gottfried as the commercial voice of its Aflac duck for tweeting insensitive and offensive remarks (since removed) about the disaster in Japan on Twitter.

True, tweets like these  (here are two of 12 issued in total) are insensitive and could be considered offensive:

Charles Sykes/SYKEC, via Associated Press“I was talking to my Japanese real estate agent. I said, ‘Is there a school is this area?’ She said, ‘Not now, but just wait.’”

“Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.”

The company stated the tweets were “lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac.”

Fair enough, and the fact that Aflac does 75% of its business in Japan is certainly a valid business reason to end their relationship. The company was entirely within its rights — and indeed had no choice — but to do so, even though Gottfried’s voice is not used in the Japanese versions of the ads and most of Aflac’s customers likely never knew that Gottfried supplied the duck’s voice.

Insensitive, offensive and ill-timed. But that describes Gottfried who has a long-held and well deserved reputation of being, as Howard Stern recently put it, “the most foul-mouthed comedian” out there.

Example: Shortly after  9-11, Gottfried was part of a Comedy Central/Friars’ Club roast of Hugh Hefner where no one was in the mood to laugh. There, a joke about his plane having a connection at the Empire State Building was met by catcalls and cries of, “Too soon!” Concluding that it was time for a comedy “Hail Mary”, Gottfried broke into an obscene, graphic, vile, extended version of the recognized “dirtiest joke of all time” – ‘The Aristocrats.’ It is also accepted as the best performance of that joke ever.

And that brings us to the fable of the scorpion and the frog. A scorpion approached a river and, unable to cross it himself, asked a frog if he could ride on its back to get to the other side. The wary frog refused at first saying that the scorpion would sting him and he’d die. The scorpion assured him he wouldn’t because if he did the scorpion would drown and so they’d both die. The frog agreed, but halfway across the river was stung by the scorpion. The frog asked, “Why? Surely now we will both perish!” The scorpion simply replied, “I’m a scorpion… it’s my nature.”

For his part, Gottfried apologized publicly, “I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.’ As a side benefit from the controversy, Gottfried’s Twitter account has added 30% jump in Twitter followers (to 73K) in just the past three days.

And, clearly, celebrities who get paid to represent a brand should be considerate of the sensitivities of the company, its brands and customers.

However, companies also need to enter these Faustian relationships with their eyes wide open.

When you hire a scorpion, expect to get stung.

About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new (social) media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

3 Responses to A Scorpion, a Frog and an Aflac Duck

  1. kgbusco says:

    So many people get themselves in trouble with online social media. I think that people seem to forget that almost the entire world will have access to the comments they make online. It’s either that or they simply don’t care, which I find hard to believe, or they don’t understand just how public their comments are. I use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook all the time for my business. It baffles me when I read about celebrities getting fired due to inappropriate comments.


  2. Agreed. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens online lasts forever. Even though Gottfried removed the tweet from his Twitter stream, they still exist in articles and blog posts across the Web.

    Companies do need to recognize the risk/reward of whom they contract with to promote their brand, but paid spokespersons need to understand that everything is connected and today’s pithy comment may threaten a thousand tomorrow’s residual checks (or ability to land the next gig).


  3. i like it A Scorpion, a Frog and an Aflac Duck « Bottom of the subsistence succession at present im your rss reader


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