NEW YORK - Aflac is betting a sales manager from Minnesota has the voice to drive the name "Aflac" into the recesses of your brain and keep it there.
Daniel McKeague, 36, a father of three from Hugo, Minn., beat out 12,500 other contestants to replace actor Gilbert Gottfried and become the new voice of the reinsurance company's duck mascot.
Gottfried voiced Aflac's duck for U.S. audiences for 11 years but was ousted in March after making insensitive remarks on Twitter about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which produces about 75 percent of Aflac's revenue. Aflac soon announced a contest for Gottfried's replacement, though the actor who has long offered a gentler interpretation of the duck for Japanese audiences will continue.
McKeague recorded a 30-second clip at radio station KQRS in Minneapolis, where he works, uploaded it to Aflac's website and later did a more formal video audition.
After learning early Tuesday that he was selected for the gig, McKeague said he's known for doing silly voices.
"Whenever that ad would come on I would imitate the duck and the kids loved it," said McKeague, whose children are 5, 8 and 11.
Aflac Chief Marketing Officer Michael Zuna says the company and its longtime advertising agency, The Kaplan Thaler Group, first winnowed the contestants to a short list of about 50, which they cut to 8 and finally to 3 - none of them celebrities. Contestants had to be able to convey a range of emotion within the single word "Aflac" and submit to an extensive background check.
Executives listened to the three finalists and chose McKeague for his range and his ability to embody the duck.
"We thought he was the best by far. I can't explain to you why. It just was. Maybe it is part of the mystique of the Aflac duck," said Dan Amos, Chairman and CEO of Aflac, based in Columbus, Ga.
He gets a one-year contract in the low six figures that the company said will likely be renewed for several years.
The first ad with McKeague's voice airs Tuesday evening during the new show "The Voice" on NBC.
McKeague says he is thrilled - and don't expect him to pull a "Gottfried" during his tenure.
"I understand what's at stake, it is not just getting behind a microphone and screaming 'Aflac.' If you're a spokesperson you have responsibilities."