Commercial Break: The Happiest Insurance Salesperson in the Whole Wide World
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 28, 2009
No commercial ad campaign has straddled the line between cringeworthiness and compulsive watchability in recent years as the Progressive Auto Insurance series. On paper, they should be nothing but miserable–corny, ridiculous, and even kind of creepy (the super-anesthetized surroundings of the Progressive store suggest some sort of Auto Insurance limbo, where customers are doomed to spend their entire lives searching for the best rates). But thanks to spokesperson/lead singer Flo (nee Stephanie Courtney), the commercials are undeniably transfixing, with the bubbly, clown-makeuped Flo even entertaining a small cult following. Like many, at first, I was convinced that this was due to Flo fitting into some very unusual niche of hottness, but while I’m not entirely willing to drop that theory just yet, I can’t help but shake the feeling that if I saw this person in a bar or something I would feel a deep shiver in my soul (Courtney herself concedes that even the GEICO Gekko is a more sexualized advertising icon). Rather, I think the universal adulation of Flo is due to a far less traditional appeal she has–that of professional exuberance, and the pride of a job well done.
Simply put, no one in the history of mankind–fictional or non-fictional–has ever loved her job as much as Flo loves selling auto insurance. Her unbridled enthusiasm for her work spills out of every frame she’s in, visually accented by the ridiculous makeup, which makes her seem like even more of a cartoon character. Compared to Flo, even Kenneth from 30 Rock is basically Stanley from The Office, busying himself with a crossword puzzle while staring at the clock, wondering if the second hand always moved so slowly. And though supposedly Courtney is a real actress of sorts (Blades of Glory! Mad Men! CAVEMEN!), it seems utterly impossible that Flo would be the product of mere acting. So blissfully ecstatic is Flo in her line of work–getting customers better deals, dishing out discounts, negotiating awkward moments between couples, fantasizing about being able to afford nametags with greater flair–that you never even think to question the logic of anyone giving a shit about selling auto insurance. No one could pull that off with a straight face unless that was legitimately the way they felt about the vending and purchasing of quality Auto Insurance. It’s just not possible.
Naturally, all others in her orbit get caught up in her infectious giddiness–grown men shrieking with giddiness, hardened cynics re-inspired by the glittering glory or the free market. And that’s the power of Flo–she doesn’t get you excited about the idea of buying Auto Insurance necessarily, as much as she gets you excited about the idea of selling it–or getting excited about the idea of getting excited about it. Because that’s the dream, isn’t it? To love your job so passionately that all who touch you can’t help but feel the love as well, regardless of the mundaneness (mundanity?) of the actual profession? I mean, I’ve had some pretty good jobs, but I still suffered through the occasional duldrum in even the best of them, turning in desperation to self-indulgent internet browsing and far too many cups of coffee. Flo laughs at the prospect of needing caffeine to get through her day. Hell, she probably has to take a quaalude halfway through the day so she doesn’t overheat and short-circuit from too much joy. It’s like watching those deliriously happy couples from the E-Harmony commercials–you just see her and think “Why can’t I find a job that makes me feel like that?” (Of course, this all supports the idea of Flo being a largely asexual creation–how could any man in her life ever hope to give her half the satisfaction that Progressive Auto Insurance does?)
And yes, Flo does have her own Wikipedia entry. Take that, Gekko.