Progressive, the insurance provider, is using brand characters in a nuanced way as it seeks to engage consumers with powerful content and contextual relevance.

Jeff Charney, Progressive’s CMO, outlined the “three Cs” for great marketing during a session at the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) 2018 Masters of Marketing Week.

“You have to have great characters in order to make great content, and put it in the right context,” he said. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Progressive’s marketing snuggles up to the edge of creativity and risk.)

Progressive boasts an iconic character from the modern advertising canon in the form of Flo, a fictional, hyper-enthusiastic salesperson who first appeared in its ads ten years ago.

While Flo is an enormous asset for the brand, Charney argued that careful character management is essential to her longevity. “We can’t put everything on Flo’s back … You see this person 20 times a month for ten years: that’s too much,” he said.

“Think about any actor – Will Smith or Tom Hanks. You can’t put that much load on them. You need to have other characters to take the load off.”

And Flo’s rock-solid strength gives progressive the ability to experiment with other characters to create new kinds of content that enables the brand to explore new contexts.

One case in point was the brand’s “Parentamorphosis” campaign, which launched with a 90-second ad. “Everyone of us came from parents,” Charney explained. “One day, we’re all going to become our parents.”

Building on this theme came another progressive character, known as “Babyman”, who allowed the insurer to address a different side of the parental context, this time with a millennials-never-leave-home theme.

Super-serious narratives that deal with super-serious topics – insurance, for example – often advise viewers that “the people you see in this advertisement are real people, not actors.”

Progressive flipped that model end over end. “We know that it takes 16 hours to shoot those ‘real people/real response’ spots. But, we’re a very transparent company and we said, ‘Let’s just shoot something that says ‘real actors’, not people,’” Charney said.

“We’re not laughing at the brand. We’re laughing with the brand. It works for us.”

Sourced from WARC