Flo the Progressive Girl:
Insurance is one of the industries that traditionally opt for a spokesperson as part of any company’s ongoing campaign. There are tried and true reasons for this. Much of the insurance business is conducted with perplexing risk models and investment, so a personable spokesperson brings the business image back down to a human level. Traditionally, insurance spokespeople are selected for their reliability: the usual candidates were hall-of-fame athletes and golden-boy actors. States mandating auto insurance for all vehicles on the road sparked a “race to the bottom” mentality as company ads aimed for the lowest common denominator in expanded market. Since then, there have been a rogue’s gallery of motor insurance mascots, but I’d like to target the most sloppily crafted: Flo the Progressive Girl. She’s a chipper-to-a-fault retail associate trapped in a hellish space that looks like a rejected Apple Store design. This fictitious store devotes a lot of shelf space to software-sized boxes with pictures of vehicles on them – gross oversimplifications of complicated insurance products. IT ALSO SELLS IT’S OWN STOCKING SCANNERS! THINK FOR A MOMENT HOW LITTLE SENSE THIS MAKES, EVEN METAPHORICALLY! A typical Progressive ad consists of a brief establishing shot of a confused customer (and who wouldn’t be confused in this store?), followed by a close-up of Flo’s cadaver-like wax lips delivering a smugly phrased solution to the problem. Between the white world and Flo’s red wildebeest hairdo and lipstick, all the commercials seem like tampon jokes with no punch line. Flo sucks because she is neither the traditional spokesperson nor the bizarro ironic opposite (think the AXE dudes or even the played out Geico caveman). Flo is all makeup and no moxie. If she’s what we must settle for as a spokesperson in this “Progressive” century, I better get to work on my time machine.
Vegas Cosmopolitan “Bohemian Rhapsody” Commercial:
“I think we’ll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentlemen.” – Wayne Campbell, Wayne’s World
It’s no secret that ads always try to capitalize on your inside jokes and hipster tendencies. You know, “underground” things you think only YOU and YOUR FRIENDS like. 2012 saw a pretty shocking bummer when AXE ran a racy spot accompanied by Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End”, showing that even outsider art can be incorporated into commercials. When ads use these tactics, it divides the audience into three camps: those who don't get the reference, those who realize what they loved is now cliché, and those who think this company “gets” you. So in your hipster mind, while the rest of the commercially fueled world listens to Carly Rae Jepsen, here’s the Cosmopolitan cryptically whispering lines from your friends favorite ironic karaoke song, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. If you stop there the commercial might come off as cool, and indeed it was a critically lauded by AdWeek et alia. But something is off about the blocking in this talk-sing tragedy. The eye line of the thugs is locked on a woman at the bar when they say “I see a little silhouetto of a man”, and she looks surprised and angry — like she was called out for being a tranny. Do they see a five o’clock shadow my drunk ass has overlooked? Come to think of it, she does resemble Garth Algar. Am I going to have sex with a Wayne’s World themed tranny at the Cosmopolitan? Is that the message they are sending me? The lyrics and art direction are at odds here. To sum it up, the message of the commercial is that you might get in trouble with the mob or otherwise at the Cosmopolitan, but in the end all the tension will just devolve into operatic fun time because all the guests have your back. “The right amount of wrong”, as the saying goes. But most people come into the commercial with preconceived ideas about what “Bohemian Rhapsody” means, and though setting this small section of lyrics to dialog might fit into context with a little toe-chopping, I think that the average viewer will realize how jarringly unsensical a song about fearing justice is for the commercial. Copywriter to boss: “This mob enforcer bit is hackneyed. Nowhere near as good as our last ad for the account What can we do to spice it up?” “Well, we have a big budget. Check out this list of song rights. Queen is within our budget.” “Okay then, Queen it is.” By taking this William Shatner-like approach to a musical commercial, Fallon Ad Agency shat on the supposedly luxury Cosmopolitan brand.
I find all college commercials to be pretty irksome. They take no risks and are really just TV versions of their diversity and trees-in-bloom mail brochures. There is no departure from the formulaic. I mean literally formulaic, since every single ad MUST feature chalkboards plastered with algebra and somebody swirling an Erlenmeyer flask. But I would take an eternity of these standard college commercials to five loops of Education Connection’s jingle. The company, if you don’t know, is an evil clearinghouse for nontraditional students. It sends subscribers’ info to for-profit colleges and universities with no admissions standards who expect you to sell your soul for a worthless degree. Education Connection spots run during daytime television to target stay-at-home moms, the underemployed, and the jobless. The ads are cheaper and more amateurish than others on this list, which almost disqualified them, but the song and the images are so suicide-inducing and vapid that they broke the budget-barrier and made it on R.A.N.T. A list best expresses how abysmal this commercial is. Condiments spinning on a record player. Stumpy, unphotogenic white girl. Nasally white girl R&B. White girl dancing. A bachelor’s degree rolled up to look like a Dungeons and Dragons scroll. Skewed salary statistics. The worst part about this commercial is that, while it breaks the memory membrane through sheer annoyance, it fails to let the viewer in on the joke of its tackiness. Big Deal PR, who greenlighted the ad, deserves old school college hazing for this hopeless commercial that flunks both Music and Ethics.
The Obtruding Sears "Top Ten" Appliance Ads:
Murketing (a mash-up of “murky” and “marketing”) is the term for the guerilla warfare of advertising. It is an umbrella term for newly emerging methods of advertising outside of traditional ad space. When done well, murketing is good enough to topple giants. Mishandled, it will blow up and rip your nose off like a botched homemade bomb. Well, if there’s one corporation that you can trust to poorly execute new trends, its Sears & Roebuck. They have been steadily losing retail market share in just about every category of their overly-broad stores, and the Sears brand has been in crisis since they discontinued the old-timey catalogues but have too much brick and mortar to compete online. They may be the most out-of-touch company in the US (Exhibit A: there are no HD or official uploads of the commercial I’m talking about here), and from what I understand, most of their marketing budget goes to online PR agencies that write fake positive reviews on websites that trash them. Why did they need to complicate their image any more with this misfiring murketing ad spot? The ad begins by spoofing a Levi’s Store or American Eagle aesthetic, with frolicking young beachgoers camping out and white finger-paint text overlays. Suddenly the kids are taken out mid-romp by a phalanx of fridges and washing machines. The commercial commands attention, but only in the way that jump-scares in horror movies last a tense minute before you move on. The commercial is a red herring, an ad within an ad, which isn’t inherently bad except that it tries to rebrand Sears as a murketing radical with a gimmick that is already becoming overplayed. The stupidity of the ad is compounded by calling attention to Sears demographic and company image woes. I’d translate this commercial to mean: “You can’t buy fridges and washing machines at the places where tweens and teens shop for clothes”. And teens as well as adults pick up on this. Everyone knows that tweens command much of the discretionary purchasing power of a household. Most of them don’t want clothes from a place where you can also buy socket wrenches. Buy them a wardrobe from Sears and they might spite you by running away or getting pregnant. Macy’s and Nordstrom’s have been redesigning their store layout so that apparel is displayed in a compartmentalized fashion similar to standalone boutiques, in part to distance the clothes from housewares. This is a free lesson for Sears to learn, taught by companies who are much better at listening to brand managers and interior designers. Yet Sears keeps pushing the big, all-in-one stop message as most of American department stores begin to shy away from it. Just like World War I tactics would be devastating in today’s conflicts, Sears general store mentality can’t cater to today’s world of subculture fashion and metropolitan tastes.
Written By: Mark Dillman