Mark Ellis is not afraid to to admit it: He’s fallen for Progressive’s top salesperson.
Much discussion in the Good Men Project pages and other culturally attuned and male-centric publications coalesces around the perceived denigration of men as promulgated by the advertising industry. What used to be compartmentalized as “Madison Avenue” is routinely pilloried for both blatant and subtle depictions of males as flummoxed, dim, sometimes feminized, and generally ridiculous.
Knowledgeable and evolved men have long understood the way this game plays out and have grown inured to such insidious messages. But every once and a while a refresher course in Hidden Persuaders-101 is indicated. In order to resist the relentless manipulations of the ad-biz, men must periodically hone their ability to deconstruct the subtexts of everything from beer commercials to Viagra spots.
For our lesson today we will focus on The Progressive (insurance) Lady, aka Flo.
Flo is a masculinized woman surrounded by a variety of weak male archetypes. The one possible tough guy who comes to her retail stage set, a young biker looking for motorcycle insurance, is sent slinking away when Flo reveals that her hog’s engine is bigger than his.
On another visit to the Progressive store, two executives from a competing firm have come shopping for a better deal than their own company can offer. Flo humors the guy who is a safe driver, while his associate whizzes by giggling on a shopping cart. “He’s my ride home,” reveals the testosterone-challenged responsible driver.
These guys have recurring roles in the campaign, and in another commercial, flip out with embarrassingly childlike joy and skip over to where Progressive’s magnificent Insurance-go-Round is spinning autos, RV’s, and golf carts.
It doesn’t take a Vance Packard degree in advertising analysis to understand that these men are symbolically gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and that Flo has more “balls” than either of them.
Other hapless men who work with Flo populate the tableau, one whose hands are turned to boxes, as he apparently ignored Flo’s admonition, “hands out of the bundler.” Another guy dances around in a cartoonish dollar-sign suit, advertising “Big Money” to a disco beat, until Flo dismisses him to go on break.
Still another man, middle-aged, on a walking tour with some visitors, reveals to Flo’s icky displeasure that his mother will not let him drive.
Of all these men, which does Flo most prefer? He’s a gee-whiz nerd, who goes orgasmic and gets “carried away” with every discount Flo rattles off. She responds with the most sexually explicit line in the campaign: “Happens to me all the time.”
And that’s where I come in.
It’s undeniable, really. The image of men presented by Progressive’s campaign provides plenty of fodder for critics who see a bias against traditional male archetypes in the advertising marketplace.
But I like Flo. I’ll go even further, I have crush on Flo. Further, I would like to be with Flo, if something like that could possibly ever happen. She’s foxy, yes, but I’m also attracted to her strength.
I’ll go even further: my auto insurance is carried by Progressive.
Why, when some of my conservative pals were dumping Progressive policies on ideological grounds (the company CEO is a notable liberal donor), did I stay with Flo? Because in my experience the company provides good insurance at a reasonable price. I may be suspicious about some of the socio-cultural messaging in their commercials, and I may politically disagree with the corporation’s owner, but as long as the core product is good, I can overlook all that.
I read the Hidden Persuaders when I was 16 and never looked back. Though I don’t always grasp the motivational signaling of a commercial or the intended audience for it, I know the advertising agencies do. I understand that they have leavened a considerable portion of Freud, B.F. Skinner, and Barnum and Bailey into the mix.
Ultimately, Progressive’s campaign has “worked.” I’ve fallen for their top saleswoman. But I’m on a definite six-month plan with her, which cycles each policy period.
All I have to do in order to keep my thing going with Flo is to make sure that whatever she’s selling, in addition to her undeniable cuteness, is that the product I want is analyzed, and rejected if necessary.