Campaign: Close the Gap
Company: Aflac
Agency Partners: Spark Foundry (paid media and streaming); Allison+Partners (earned media and public relations); XP Agency (film production); Dagger (social media); and the Aflac Studio (creative assets and premiere production)
Duration: January 19, 2022 — ongoing

Aflac wants to help Americans impacted by medical debt. Former NFL and MLB star Deion Sanders is helping the supplemental insurance company do just that through its Close the Gap initiative.


Aflac announced in October that it would provide $1 million in grants throughout 2022 to families, individuals and organizations that were overwhelmed by unexpected medical events.

Meanwhile, Sanders was hospitalized that month because of complications from foot surgery. He missed three games, lost nearly 40 pounds and was warned that he might need to have his leg amputated, according to a documentary about the team.

“Fortunately, I was able to focus on my recovery and not worry about the cost,” Sanders stated in a press release for Close the Gap. “However, too many Americans, especially those of color, are not afforded the same peace of mind and are one step away from a medical incident that could easily lead to financial ruin. I have a shared commitment with Aflac to help close the gap for those without a voice and to bring greater awareness of the medical debt disparity in America.”

Shannon Watkins, Aflac chief brand and marketing officer, said the company partnered with Sanders because “we wanted to pick people — not just talent — but people who shared an alignment with what our vision was for this work, and it was to highlight the fact that yes, many Americans across this country have health insurance, but there will be a gap, and that’s where Aflac stands in.”

Nicknamed “Prime Time” during his playing career because of his athletic ability and flashy persona, Sanders is now garnering attention because of his accomplishments as head football coach of historically Black university (HBCU) Jackson State University in Mississippi.

Most notably, he landed the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022, which would be impressive for any school, let alone a relatively unknown one.

Aflac took note of Sanders’ impact on football; fellow African-Americans; and the HBCU and decided to hire him as a brand ambassador.


In October, Aflac released video testimonials featuring its customers discussing the benefits of the supplemental insurance for costs not covered by medical insurance. The company encouraged people to submit their stories of an unexpected medical expense that sidelined them. The company produced the videos through its in-house agency and released several versions of a particular testimonial, Watkins said.

“We found that very direct storytelling was critically important,” said Watkins. “It’s setting up the problem, setting up the solution that Aflac can provide and ending with a clear call to action to learn more, and that can either be through the website or filling out a lead form to talk to an agent.”

In January, the company distributed 20 $5,000 grants to some of those people and plans to distribute the remainder of the $1 million throughout 2022, Watkins said.

The company also produced an animated short film, The Park Bench, about a young girl who is distraught over her father’s sickle cell diagnosis until she finds a new friend: the Aflac duck.

Rob Edwards, writer of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, wrote and directed the film, and hip-hop icon Nas provided musical direction. The company planned to premiere the film at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, but when organizers shifted it to a virtual format because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aflac had to adjust as well.

“We had to absolutely pivot our approach from a focus on media activation to a focus on consumer activation through digital,” said Watkins.

On January 22, the company used the Twitch live streaming platform to premiere the film and a live panel that included Watkins, Sanders and Edwards.


The paid social campaign on Facebook received 2.3 million video completions.

The livestreamed panel and premiere of the initiative on Aflac’s Twitch channel resulted in more than 137,000 views; 302,000 minutes watched; and 11,000 max concurrent connected users.

The Park Bench received more than 2 million video views across Hulu, Roku and Amazon in nine days.

News organizations such as the New York PostForbes, Essence and KTLA covered the campaign.

This article originally appeared in PRWeek US.