If the Geico caveman taught us anything, it’s that when advertisers hit on something that works, they tend to beat it into the ground. Unsurprising, then, that they’re in the process of mimicking fictional Progressive spokeswoman Flo, introduced in 2008.
Flo is what the customer service automatons in employee training videos would be like as actual people: Relentlessly perky, having no desire save to tell you what you want to hear, and covered with enough flair to set off a metal detector from 300 yards away.
Designed to put a real life face in front of an otherwise intangible website, the appeal is obvious: It’s retail with all practical realities and imperfections removed; an endless florescent void inhabited only by instantly-recognizable brands and eternally-smiling salespeople with nothing to do but wittily answer all your questions.
The formula is nothing new, of course, but Flo’s proved unique. Not every corporate mascot has their own regularly-updated Twitter and Facebook pages, after all, and that’s just the beginning-there are dozens of makeup tutorial videos on Youtube demonstrating how to achieve the “Flo look.” Most creepily, Progressive’s website has a section detailing how to look and dress like Flo, going so far as to include printable nametags and “I Heart Insurance” button templates.
Point is, Flo’s a hit. Only a matter of time, then, for other companies to follow the leader…
This recent Toyota ad is a good example of the form. We’ve got a perky, relatable salesperson, we’ve got the same “I’m gonna understate how awesome this product is, because if I was honest you wouldn’t believe me” routine, we’ve even got a similar white, product-covered background. They’re not a faceless corporation selling you something, they’re your buddy telling you how cool the product in front of you is. On that note…
Wendy’s turning their logo into a Flo-style mascot was a no-brainer. These break the mold a little by changing the setting, but the enthusiastically insincere “I’m your buddy! No, really! I swear!” feeling is in full-force. I’m always confused by ads like these. Think back to the last time you were out eating fast food with friends. Did the subject of what you were eating come up more than once?
Probably not, because you are a human being. Movies, politics, significant others… Try as I might, I can’t recall plastering a Joker-esque grin on my face and describing Wendy’s newest sandwich with the enthusiasm of someone listing the reasons why The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale (WE GET IT, BILLY). I don’t get why they bother faking human interaction if the people still talk like robots.
This one from AT&T is a similar deal. Mark Cuban offsets the Flo-ness by drawing the attention off the salesperson, but so many of the features are still there: She’s still an attractive, perky, gee-aren’t-I-cute employee with a big nametag and nothing to do besides give the customer (ie: the viewer) their full attention. The fact that the audience identification figure comes off as an easily-duped moron was apparently lost on the ad agency.
I might seem annoyed with this trend, but I’m actually hoping more companies jump on the bandwagon. Once we hit peak saturation, it’s only a matter of time before a horror writer gets a vision of an army of Stepford-faced corporate drones with identical personalities slowly colonizing an unsuspecting American town.
Stephen King, if you’re reading this… I thought of it first.