10 Years of Flo: The story behind Progressive’s accidental ad icon

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It all started with five unscripted words.

Back in 2007, Progressive Insurance’s brand recognition was somewhere between zero and being mistaken for Progresso soup. The company needed an identity and, working with its ad agency Arnold Worldwide, came up with the concept of the superstore. If most people thought shopping for insurance was hell, the superstore–all gleaming white, neatly ordered shelves–represented heaven. Not only that, but its rows of boxes labeled for car, home, and other types of insurance made tangible a product and sales process many found confusing.

In the campaign’s first-ever ad, aired on January 14, 2008, a customer says, “Wow,” impressed with all the extras that come with his savings of more than $350. A cashier named Flo echoes his enthusiasm and says, “Wow! I say it louder…” And that was it.

“When she said that, we realized she really had something special, she was a character with real character,” says Progressive CMO Jeff Charney. “That character was completely unplanned, but we saw it and we jumped on it. She became the center of this ad sitcom. It took us a couple of spots, but we started to move the focus on her.”

Iconic brand mascots are in many ways a hallmark of a bygone era. The Glad man. The Energizer bunny. The Dell dude. And we all know what happened to Jared from Subway. Aside from breakfast cereal, the life-spans of these characters are short to nonexistent. Flo is an outlier. In the decade since her debut, Progressive’s business has more than doubled from $13.6 billion in 2008 to nearly $30 billion today. According to the company, its growth rate over that same time period, which accelerated to 21% in the company’s most recent quarter, has been roughly double that of the property and casualty insurance industry as a whole through the most recent year-end.
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