The Italian American One Voice Coalition (IAOVC), an anti-defamation group that includes multiple Italian American organizations, expressed dismay and disgust with the airing of the recent AFLAC commercial, depicting the kidnapping of the iconic AFLAC Duck by characters that are clearly meant to portray Italian Americans in a bad light.
“The Ad uses negative stereotypes of characters obviously meant to portray Italian Americans which are unacceptable and should be immediately removed,” said Manny Alfano, IAOVC President in a letter to AFLAC representatives, “The commercial’s intent is to ridicule Italian Americans – and an apology is in order.” Alfano further requested a meeting with AFLAC executives and the immediate cessation of broadcasting the commercial, which was aired during The Sun Bowl and ABC’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The commercial is also slated to air during the Super Bowl, which is among the most viewed programs in America, increasing the concern of IAOVC.
The ad tastelessly has the AFLAC Duck kidnapped by alleged mobsters, portrayed by an actor known for playing Italian American gangster images. They pat the Duck down, threaten him and then dump him from a moving limo.
IAOVC expressed surprise and dismay at the content of the ad since AFLAC has generally been known for humorous, family oriented themes in their advertising and a sensitivity to social and ethnic concerns, as evidenced by the swift removal of the inventor of the AFLAC Duck voice, Gilbert Gottfried, when he joked about Japanese people in the aftermath of a tsunami. Gottfried was fired less than 48 hours after the jokes appeared. Michael Zuna, the well-known and respected Chief of Marketing for AFLAC, headed the action in replacing Gottfried, yet enthusiastically embraced and introduced the new ad. The contradiction and hypocrisy of his actions only serve to highlight that Italian Americans continue to be a group that is consistently maligned and that the “open season” on the Italian American character and heritage continues and is considered acceptable at the highest levels of corporate America.
It is the position of IAOVC that this continued maligning creates a never ending, negative image of Italian Americans, despite their enormous contributions to this nation. The cavalier attitude of Michael Zuna, CMO and Dan Amos, Chairman and CEO of AFLAC, in promoting this ad sends a message that ethnic and bias attacks are acceptable and continue to be the norm. Additionally, Alfano points out that this is an old tired image, increasingly perpetuated over the last 40 years in the American media. “It is neither innovative nor humorous, but it is undoubtedly and clearly offensive,” Alfano stated.
The Italian American One Voice Coalition is a group dedicated solely to fighting defamation, negative stereotyping and discrimination against Italian Americans. It is a national group, based in New Jersey.