The Engagement Effect and How Gilbert Gottfried Got It

He’s the voice of a company — although I almost doubt many people know his name. But his voice serves as that recognizable sound of a duck. The supplemental insurance company Aflac has invested millions of dollars into a campaign that reaches well beyond Twitter and Facebook. But in 140 characters, Gilbert Gottfried destroyed his relationship with a tasteless joke about Japan and the tsunami.

Surprising, since I’ve actually seen some of Gilbert’s stand-up and, quite frankly, all of it can be tasteless. Timing and topic can be the thing to put it over the top and, well, Gilbert did that handily.

The Engagement EffectHe’s not the first or the last to do such. Howard Stern’s first firing from a radio station in Washington, DC, came a day after an infamous 1982 winter plane crash in the Potomac River when he called the bargain airline to ask how much a ticket was from National Airport to the 14th Street Bridge.

But the result from this incredibly crass and controversial moment won’t be exile. Yes, a few followers will leave in disgust. But the much more likely will be Gilbert Gottfried will get more followers. A lot more.

That’s indeed another Engagement Effect. We are a nation of rubberneckers, slowing down to see the wreck on the side of the road. Controversy breeds followers, friends and fans in the social media world.

Indeed, check this graph out:


In a day since the news broke of his firing, @RealGilbert gained more than 12,000 new followers. By the way, the @AflacDuck earned only a couple of hundred more, but it is on the positive side (here’s a comparison chart):

The good news is Aflac didn’t see a net loss. Yet. And while from an overall brand standing, the choice may have been right, the social media world is not like the real world.

Aflac’s choice to fire Gilbert prevented the inevitable news of his joke. Aflac had probably already taken flak for it. But hiring a controversial comedian as voice talent — not as the spokesperson — seems an odd step to take unless the brand is planning a departure.

Which is my bet.

The “major medical pigeon” might signal jumping the shark or perhaps the duck goes silent to find its new voice and the convenience of Gilbert’s tweet makes it easier to exercise the always included and very ambiguous morality clause.

But for the Charlie Sheen in all of us, Gilbert Gottfried is #winning with a lot of new followers on Twitter. His challenge: Keep them following. Too bad @AflacDuck didn’t have some help to garner a windfall of new followers too from this controversy.

Published by

Michael Cheek

With more than 20 years of communication experience, Michael Cheek offers solid marketing expertise, especially in the digital frontier. He currently resides in Georgia but he's open to relocate anywhere the opportunities take him. Learn more at You can follow him on Twitter at and see more about his professional experience at Reach him via e-mail at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.