It seems inconceivable now, but Flo was not originally scripted
for the lead in Progressive 's "Superstore" campaign. The real star
was supposed to be the store itself, and more specifically the
"box" of insurance that was meant to make an intangible service
Five years and more than 80 ads later, the box is returning to
the spotlight, starring in animated form in new campaign that made
its debut this week by Progressive agency-of -record Arnold
Worldwide. Progressive Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Charney swears
that Flo -- who Ad Age recently named as a
top 10 female ad icon -- is not getting a demotion and is not
on her way out. She just wasn't suited for this job, which is to
make a hard sell in a direct-response ad.
"We really want [Flo] to be a long-lasting brand," Mr. Charney
said. "She's got to be relatable and a friend first," he added.
"She can't be hawking or ... a shill."
The box ad crams nine messages into 60 seconds, including
telling viewers that "you don't even have to wait for your policy
to expire to switch." That compares with the 30-second Flo spots,
which Mr. Charney described as a "brand campaign that happens to
sell." And while Flo ads typically run during prime time, the media
buy for the box commercials includes more late-night slots when
direct-response ads tend to air.
Progressive hasn't determined if the box -- which is voiced by
comic actor Chris Parnell -- will get a permanent spot in the
insurer's lineup. Mr. Charney described it as a test . Arnold
worked with visual effects company The Mill on the commercial.
Flo already has some company with a character called "The
Messenger," a mustachioed, leather-jacket-wearing man who has
starred in his own campaign for a while, in which he sneaks up on
customers and pitches them on discounts.
Running multiple campaigns at once has almost become a
necessity in the auto-insurance market, as companies vie for
attention from consumers who are more frequently buying insurance
on their own, rather than relying on agents. For instance, Geico,
which in recent years has filled the airwaves with cavemen, stacks
of money with eyes, its trademark gecko and other efforts, recently
debuted yet another campaign, featuring a fiddler and
guitar-player delivering punch lines.
Mr. Charney went so far as to compare Progressive 's ads to a TV
show. "It's a content game," he said. "We have sitcom here we are
running with a lot of different characters, a lot of different
locations." The box ad, he said, "is just another small spin-off of
this broader sitcom that is Flo."
In the first "show" -- i.e. Flo's first ad (below) -- she got
plenty of airtime, but notice how the box does as well (or in this
case boxes). In animated form in the new campaign, the box appears
as a grandiose, pampered star with access to a personal trainer,
tailor and masseuse. Said Mr. Charney: "The box [says] 'Hey, I have
a pretty good opinion of myself because I am really the policy. Flo
is selling me, but you don't have Flo without having me.'"
E.J. Schultz is the News Editor for Ad Age, overseeing breaking news and daily coverage. He also contributes reporting on the beverage, automotive and sports marketing industries. He is a former reporter for McClatchy newspapers, including the Fresno Bee, where he covered business and state government and politics.