Why we love TV’s perkiest brand ambassador
In her starched white duds, branded apron and honkin’ name tag, Flo is the crowned queen of TV brand spokespeople. She’s been around so long (appearing in well over 100 commercials) surveying her white limbo Progressive Insurance kingdom, you are forgiven for not remembering why this unassuming, working mom-type became such an innovative and effective brand character in the first place.
Simply put, people like her. I like her. You probably like her. That doesn’t sound too earth shatteringly innovative until you remind yourself that Flo is selling insurance—a reviled product in a reviled industry with a reputation for humorless, impersonal pain-in-the-arse bureaucracy. Flo, with her unassuming mid-western joviality, pluck and wit, managed to flip the script on an entire category to become legitimately likeable. And that’s no small feat.
Progressive gets bigly props for their marketing insight, but it’s actress Stephanie Courtney who won over audiences with her retro ’do, prom makeup and relatable humor. A trained actress and comedian, Courtney’s performance has become synonymous with the success of Progressive Insurance, and business insiders have taken notice. Inc. Magazine has named the campaign among the top 10 most effective of the past decade. Not bad for a character who unapologetically matches a Peggy Sue headband with Elgin Baylor-era Chuck Taylors. In Hollywood-speak, “It all just works.”
Oddly, in 2007, a year before she donned the Progressive cashier’s apron, Courtney appeared in the short-lived TV series “Cavemen,” based on the popular commercials by another insurance company, GEICO. And you may be somewhat surprised to know she has also left her mark on classic advertising in an entirely different way, appearing as a recurring character—Marge, a switchboard operator for Sterling Cooper—on AMC’s legendary “Mad Men,” temporarily trading her signature headband for ’60s cat eye specs. Courtney has also appeared in countless commercials for McDonalds, Skittles, Bud Light, Quaker Oats, among others, and even has an impressive filmography with humorous turns in “The Solomon Brothers,” “Blades of Glory,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “For Your Consideration,” and many more.
Without question, Courtney has acting chops, and anyone who has seen her stand-up act will concede that she is legitimately funny. But the Flo character will always be her pièce de résistance much in the same way that Henry Winkler will always be The Fonz even if he lives to make another thousand movies. Thankfully, it seems that Arnold Worldwide, Progressive’s advertising agency, is hip to the notion that Courtney has more to bring to the table, and has recently created new spots in which she plays multiple characters in the same family, a la Nutty Professor-era Eddie Murphy. And, yeah, it all still works.
Anyway, no marketing spokesperson list would be complete without a tip of the bouffant to dear ol’ Flo. Nearly 10 years after we fell in love with her, our reigning queen can still wear white. Long live the queen.