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Corporate America invades a young brain

By Lisa Greene
Published December 1, 2006

Lisa Greene

It used to be that South Tampa was an island unto itself, where Wright's Gourmet House and Whaley's Market reigned supreme.

These days, the outside world keeps pushing in. The big excitement is over the arrival of outside chains: Fresh Market and Wild Oats are just the latest.

But every now and then, local events have a funny way of pushing back. And the tiniest remark made on a South Tampa street travels the other way, up the chain into corporate America.

My youngest daughter, Anna, is 8, that age when she always has bruises on her knees.

Not so long ago, she and my husband went out to walk the dog, and she tripped and fell.

She hopped right back up and swung back her always-messy hair and chirped up to Bill: "What if I'm hurt and can't work?"

Then she quacked like a duck and yipped, "AFLAC! AFLAC!"

Oh, the shame. My kid is only 8 and already can quote commercials about, of all things, disability insurance.

If we were better parents, we would have been Very Alarmed and immediately unplugged the TV. And maybe put her in therapy to purge her cute little brain of all traces of Demon Advertising.

Instead, Bill thought it was just completely adorably funny. (Because, after all, anything our adorable children say is the funniest thing ever said by any child in the entire history of the spoken word.)

So he sent an e-mail to a friend who works in the insurance industry, because they had joked about the Aflac duck before.

She e-mailed it to somebody else. Who e-mailed it to somebody else.

Who e-mailed it to Samantha Dawkins, who is the coordinator of national advertising and sponsorships at - where else? - Aflac.

Next thing we know, she has e-mailed Bill about our "absolutely precious" and "perceptive" daughter. (Obviously, our new pal Sam is one smart lady.)

"We are truly excited to hear that our loved icon, the Aflac duck, is being shared among family and friends," she wrote.

Then Sam went the extra mile. A few days later, Anna got a package in the mail.

Inside: a flock of duck-shaped pens and a bag of Aflac-labeled candy "to share with her class." (I regret to say that the candy rapidly met a different fate.)

And, of course, a cute, white, plush duck.

When you squeeze him, he bellows: "Aflac! Aflac! AFFFLAAAAAACC!"

We are still debating whether our new pal Sam is a true marketing genius or if she just needs way more work to do.

So I called Sam, who said she only sends ducks to children she's never met "on special occasions."

She knows of other children who connect ducks to Aflac. ("What does the cow say? Moo. What does the duck say? Aflac!")

But Anna is special, she said, because she connected the duck to Aflac's benefits message.

"She understood what was going on," Sam said.

Of course, our next plan is to teach Anna to say "a diamond is forever" and "accidentally" e-mail it to Tiffany's.

But that's all beside the point. Maybe our Bizarre Duck Incident was just a weird quirk of timing and coincidence.

Maybe it was just a really good day for Anna - how often do you get candy and a toy just for being 8 and cute?

But it's also a reminder that all our electronic connections, from TV to the Internet, are weaving our world smaller and smaller.

Tampa isn't its own kingdom anymore.

The rest of the world is just around the corner.

And you never know when it's listening in.

[Last modified November 30, 2006, 07:39:22]

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