One of the claims we hear most frequently from insurance brands is that it's a "low involvement" category – which translates, depending on who can over-hear them, from "it's not emotionally engaging" to "it's just plain dull." So, it's always nice when we get to present another point of view: one that shows a link between what we predicted with our engagement metrics, and the marketplace. Not because we want to embarrass anyone, but because we are researchers, after all, and have a special place in our collective heart for dismantling theories that do not prove out in the world.

Insurance is, in fact, one of the most emotional and high-involvement categories. While the process of choosing it may be something that makes consumers wince, that is largely because it is seen as one of those "fine print" purchases that strikes terror into the soul of the lay person. That terror is the crux of the emotion inherent in the category.

Buying insurance is buying responsibility. One is buying the privilege of someone else being on the hook for making things right when, as the Nationwide brand once proclaimed in their advertising, "life comes at you fast." And no one wants to be wrong about that.

The emotional stakes of choosing correctly in this category are a significant contributor to the positive changes seen in the Progressive brand. Ranked 5th in our Brand Keys' 2009 Customer Loyalty and Engagement Index, it held the #2 spot in January 2010 – a dramatic year-to-year shift that was mirrored in both their stock price and market success of the brand.

Here are the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Index rankings for Insurance brands for 2010

Brand 2010 Ranking 2009 Ranking
Allstate 1st 1st
Progressive 2nd 5th
Geico 3rd 2nd
State Farm 4th 3rd
Nationwide 5th 4th

So, where did this leap come from? Well, it certainly wasn't from increased awareness of the brand, as it was already well-known before consumers were calling it their own. One need only do a quick search on You Tube to see not only the number of hits for their commercials, but the spontaneous quotes that accompany the ads – almost always about Flo, the cheery but deceptively sharp spokesperson in Progressive's ad campaign.

When looking at spokespeople for insurance brands, Dennis Haysbert for Allstate and the gecko for Geico barely edge Flo out, and she is breathing down their necks. More importantly, she showed an increase of nearly 20 points in our study of strongest brand spokespeople for 2010 – an indicator that she has tapped into an emotional crevice that many consumers are simply crazy about.

From the setting Progressive has used in the ads – a heavenly place of consumer empowerment where insurance dreams of low prices and high service come true – to Flo herself, an emotional center has been struck, and it holds. Flo, with her retro styling, takes us back in time, while her contemporary "easy peasy" humor telegraphs the future of painless online transactions. Flo comforts us. Just old enough to be trusted and young enough to be uniquely cool, Progressive has embodied the solution to consumer's fear of being rudderless as they choose the right plan, without going broke.

She is neither the stuffy visionary advisor, nor does she take the irreverent swipe some other brands are at those who think of insurance as an important, if dreaded, decision. She is, instead, the embodiment of what is in the cross-hairs of our metrics for the category: an emotionally-comforting person offering us rational benefits.

And that's a high-involvement that clearly consumers understand.