100 Most Influential Women in Advertising

Ad Age Picks the Top 10 Female Ad Icons of All Time

From the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl to Progressive's Flo, We Choose the Most Memorable Women of the Last 100 Years

By Published on .

From the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl to Progressive 's Flo, the last 100 years has seen the introduction of dozens of classic female ad icons. Some are timeless, others broke barriers and some could just plain sell stuff. Here are the top 10, as designated by Ad Age , in chronological order of their year of introduction.

Morton Salt Umbrella Girl

This venerable ad icon was originally an afterthought, one of three substitute ideas that agency W. Ayer & Co. pitched in case the company rejected 12 others. But Morton fell in love with the girl from the beginning. The "When It Rains It Pours" campaign made its debut in 1914 became a classic.

Betty Crocker

Created in 1921 for Gold Medal flour, this fictitious kitchen expert by 1945 was voted the second-most famous women in America, trailing only Eleanor Roosevelt, Fortune reported that year. Now overseen by General Mills, Betty is as relevant as ever, with her own recipe website and a Facebook page with 1.8 million likes.

Miss Chiquita

This "First Lady of Fruit," as Chiquita calls her, was originally drawn as an animated banana in 1944. She became human in 1987, when artist Oscar Grillo, who also spawned the Pink Panther, gave her new life, reflecting the "image the public had of Miss Chiquita as a real person," according to the company.

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie was the star of the classic campaign to recruit women to the workforce during World War II. Her image was popularized by Norman Rockwell's rendition on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. Rosie's spirit lives on today at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif.

Josephine the Plumber

First appearing in 1963 in a campaign by Compton Advertising, Josephine went on to pitch Comet cleanser for years. And no one could make side-by -side comparisons like her, sprinkling and scrubbing Comet past "other leading cleansers." Jane Withers, who played the part, said in a 2010 interview with the L.A. Daily News that the brand originally designed the character as "way too serious," until she convinced them Josephine should be "more upbeat."

Mr. . Olson

Nobody poured out advice like Mr. Olson, who from 1963 to the mid-1980s told distressed housewives in her Swedish accent to use Folgers, the "mountain grown" coffee. Actress Virginia Christine was a granddaughter of Swedish immigrants and was said to drink five to six cups of coffee a day in real life, according to a 1979 profile in People magazine. "They consider me a friend, it shows in their faces," she said of her fans, "and I'm a sucker for that ," she told People.

Madge the Manicurist

Created by Ted Bates & Co., Madge came to life in 1966, positioning Palmolive dishwashing soap as a "beauty prescription for hands that do dishes." Thus was born one of the longest-running character ads, played by the same actress, Jan Miner, who starred in the role for 27 years. Colgate-Palmolive retired Madge in 1991 after more than 90 ads.

Rosie the Waitress

Who can forget Rosie, who touted Bounty paper towels as the "quicker picker upper" in ads that rolled out in the early 1970s? When Ad Age named brand owner P&G the top marketer of the 20th century in 1999, former Chairman-CEO Durk Jager listed the Rosie campaign as one of the marketer's three best, saying it reinvented product demonstration. Rosie was played by Nancy Walker, who also appeared on the TV show "Rhoda." She died in 1992.

Clara Peller

In 1984 Clara Peller asked what would become one of the most famous advertising questions ever: "Where's the Beef?" The Wendy's campaign, by Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample spurred the burger chain to growth and made the elderly and diminutive Ms. Peller a star. She died in 1987, but the phrase she made famous lives on in popular culture and even at Wendy's , which brought it back last year.


Progressive introduced the white-clad, perky sales clerk character in 2008 and is seemingly putting her everywhere these days. Love her or hate her, Flo is an unquestioned star in the car-insurance ad wars. Overseen by Arnold Worldwide, Boston, Flo and the "superstore" campaign are meant to turn insurance into something "you can touch and feel," Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Charney told Ad Age last year.
Most Popular