it comes to great characters from famous television commercials,
the most popular in the past were: 1997 Taco Bell's talking Chihuahua
("ˇYo 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, they were memorable,
and I'd miss those endearing characters, except for a few 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.
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 Instagram; 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 (though Flo is
based on Courtney's mom), 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
Stephanie Courtney also had a recurring roles as one of the receptionists
on AMC's hit, Mad Men; Showtime's The United States of Tara; as
cousin Gayla in the movie, The Heartbreak Kid, and in other hits
like Melvin Goes to Dinner, and Blades of Glory.
She's been signed by Progressive for more Flomercials and, if they're
as much fun as those she's already done, I may have to consider
abandoning Dean Winters (the mischievous "Mahem" for Allstate),
J.K. Simmons (deadpan Professor Burke for Farmer's Insurance), and
all the clever Geiko Insurance ads (The Martin Agency won the account
Then again, I may just go with the Flo.
"A Balloon In Cactus"
- June 1, 2018 column