Go With the Flo -- or Maybe Not

And by Flo, we're talking about the Flo of the Progressive Insurance ads, the lady with the white-tunic wardrobe, uber-eye liner, mega-cherry lips and what looks like borrowed hair. If you're one of 3.3 percent of American households who do not have a TV, you are either in a monastery, a Luddite or way too self-sufficient. It is advised that you stop reading now while you still can avoid this subject.

However, the rest of us have to deal with Flo. Why? Because no matter how many times we're at the fridge during commercial breaks, we cannot avoid her, thanks to Progressive's carpet-bombing TV and online marketing. Flo has been embedded in our collective media minds for the last six years on screen, in print, on Facebook with more than 5 million likes and copious websites including "Dress Like Flo," which includes a navy headband, perky wig and a "Flo as zombie" video. Oh yeah.

A little background: Flo is actress Stephanie Courtney, a veteran of L.A.'s improv scene, episodic TV and movies who started the insurance ads in 2008. She has a career most TV commercial actors would die for: a steady gig, a contract and salary reported to be $500,000 a year.
And because TV Flo doesn't look like real Stephanie, the actress should not be hampered by overexposure or identification with these ads -- leaving her free to pursue other parts when this gig is over.

But for now, Stephanie is Flo and because Flo is so ubiquitous, the lady does generate robust reactions -- much like a plate of liver.

"Irritating" is what a retired N.Y. book editor calls her ads.

"Creepy, weird," says a professional shooter -- as in photo and video.

"Sterile," a young marriage and family psychologist suggests -- probably because of Flo's white costume.

"Dorky and unattractive," from several respected Los Angeles-based public relations professionals.

"Annoying," is the word used by a veteran addiction counselor.

From a veteran marketing guru, "Yecch, I'd rather watch the (Aflac) duck."

And pulling no punches: "I hate Flo," says the leader of a major actor-director-playwrite organization.

Like liver, Flo does have her admirers -- which are probably why her ads have been running for more than half a decade.

The words "quirky" and "amusing," says a veteran attorney and TV legal analyst.

Several marketing and PR executives think they're 'creative,' and 'hip."

An actress, busy with on-camera and voice-over commercials, calls the Flo ads "distinctive and memorable." Another actress says "fun, hip inventive" and -- most significantly -- she hears the word "SAVINGS," which, after all, is a major point to these commercials. But there's a nagging question that must be addressed: Is Flo's flow ebbing?

Flo watchers -- and that would be everyone who isn't watching PBS -- have noticed a not-so-subtle shift in the Progressive ads that suggest a change of course. If you've seen their recent TV ads, Flo's screen time is diminishing. One new spot headlines two stumbling guys -- with the last few seconds of Flo looking on.

And there's the one featuring a talking box as a cute spokes-thing. The box is all white but -- there is no Flo. Is this a trend? Who knows? We assume several people on the Progressive account know but you and I aren't among them. An uninformed guess would be that Progressive's marketing mavens are trying out different low or no-Flo spots and keeping an eye on sales figures. If they start going up, she'll be phased out. They go down or there's no change, she's got the gig for quite a while and Flo joins the pantheon of embedded national brand characters, sitting next to KFC's Colonel Sanders -- also dressed in white.