Just over a year ago, Dr. Rick, the “Parental Life Coach” character from insurer Progressive, knocked on the figurative door of Americans stuck at home under pandemic lockdown, and they were more than happy to let him in. Appearing in a series of commercials designed to prevent people from turning into their parents, his tough-love advice, featuring gems like “If you have nowhere to sit, you have too many [pillows]” and “Guess what, the waiter doesn’t need to know your name” resonated with consumers at a time when they needed it most. It also helped win over customers for the Mayfield Village, Ohio-based Progressive in the uber-competitive insurance landscape.
Jeff Charney, the longtime Progressive chief marketing officer responsible for Dr. Rick, as well as well-known characters such as Flo and Jamie, says the life coach’s COVID-19 debut almost didn’t happen.
“Back then it was a very unpopular decision,” he says. “Everybody else was doing all this heavier stuff, wearing masks, the ICU, ambulances, and we were introducing this kind of funny guy named Dr.—people got nervous.” Yet Charney, a veteran marketer who worked at Aflac and QVC before joining Progressive 11 years ago, knew a character hit when he saw one. “A logo can’t come into your home, a CEO can’t come into your home, but Flo can, Jamie can, Dr. Rick can,” he says.