When it comes to great characters from famous television commercials, the most memorable appear no more: 1997 Taco Bell's talking Chihuahua ("¡Yo Quiero Taco Bell!"); 1989 LiteCall's Mrs. Fletcher ("I've fallen and I can't get up"); and 1984 Wendy's Clara Peller ("Where's the beef?"). Before that, we had Mr. Whipple warning us not to squeeze the Charmin, Madge advising our hands would be softer with Palmolive, and Juan Valdez touting Colombian coffee.
As much as they might have irritated me at the time, I'd miss those endearing characters, except for a pair of TV commercials currently airing, featuring equally captivating characters.
One is Geiko's gekko, and I'm not including him because he isn't real, he's animated. Besides, even a cute, cynical lizard with a Cockney accent can't compare with Geiko's current competition, a girl who is real, though her personality is animated. You know the one I mean: The Progressive Insurance girl.
She's the one who makes viewers either want to befriend her, date her or buy her insurance. She may be the most animated real-life character on television since Lucy. She's perky, peppy, and positive, no mean feat in these tough economic times when more people hate insurance companies than ever before. Progressive dubbed their bubbly representative Flo. We know that because you can see it on what she refers to as her "tricked out name tag."
However, the actress who plays Flo has her own name: Stephanie Courtney.
Stephanie, an actress, stand-up comic and member of acclaimed improvisational group, The Groundlings, has made Flo famous worldwide. This makes worthwhile the two hours she spends in fat, upholstered chairs in the studio's make-up and hair department, morphing into Flo. That big-hair bubble do of the '60s, flame-red lipstick, and banjo-eyed enthusiasm, leave the viewer wishing to immediately hook onto another Progressive Flo commercial; they're as addictive as chain smoking, only without the cigarette.
Texas online news magazine, Austin360.com, describes Flo as "... bubbly and beaming, high-volume, with a flip of dark hair and a face like a lollipop. She irks as she endears, bemuses as she bewitches. She's a bundle of energetic contradictions, bursting here, retracting there. Her expressions blink and change like a neon sign. Her eyes are popping globes. And she just sold you a bunch of car insurance."
Flo steals your heart as easily as Cupid shoots an arrow on Valentine's Day, whether she's talking about her tricked-out name tag, or ardently pointing out ways Progressive can insure anything you own, tailored to your specifics. And she can fist bump a customer with her pricing gun as easily as John Wayne drew his Colt 45. Fans follow her on Twitter, FaceBook and MySpace; not a shy lot, they often leave love notes which can be read by anyone, even Stephanie Courtney.
A blogger quoted in the Austin publication, is trying to find out why Flo is so appealing, and asks, "Is it her fabulous comic timing, her over-the-top facial expressions, her cute-as-a-button retro flip? Or is it the slight hint of a bad girl that lies just under the surface? The promise of a tattoo under that checkout girl uniform? The possibility of a motorcycle parked out back?"
Another blogger writes, "If you know me at all, you know that I have been in love with Flo from the Progressive Auto Insurance commercials for years." Still another asks, "After years of seeing "Flo The Progressive (Insurance) Lady" high fiving 'power to the people,' thinking about tacos, wearing tricked out name tags, and helping some poor dude save money so he can buy his watch back from his friend I [have] to know.... who is the REAL Flo?"
Courtney herself doesn't know who the real Flo is, believes Flo comes across as asexual, and thinks the Geico lizard puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does. Others disagree, and find Flo a refreshing bounce back to the past when we could trust people. She's helpful, ardent, and sincere.
Stephanie Courtney also has recurring roles as one of the receptionists on AMC's hit Mad Men; Showtime's The United States of Tara; and as cousin Gayla in the movie The Heartbreak Kid.
She's been signed by Progressive for 12 more Flomercials and, if they're as much fun as those she's already done, I may have to consider abandoning Dennis Haysbert, Allstate Insurance spokesman, and sexy U.S. president on Fox's thriller, 24.
Like everybody else, I may just go with the Flo.