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  • Dan Connors

The Flo Awards- why commercials work.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

One of the best inventions ever in my opinion was the digital video recorder, (DVR). When I got my first used one, I was thrilled that I was able to fast-forward through any and all commercials. For over ten years I managed to avoid all commercials, deftly pushing the fast-forward button whenever they intruded upon my television viewing.

In 2019 I ditched the DVR to go streaming only, which has been a blessing for the many new shows I can see for less money, but also a curse, because now I can't avoid commercials anymore. For up to 180 seconds I have to endure the annoying pitches of Madison Avenue- trying to get me to buy their products.

So I made a game out of it. I go on my phone while the commercials run, go to the bathroom, or turn off the sound. But one type of commercial has truly grabbed my interest this year- insurance commercials, which seem to run all the time.

Let's face it- insurance is boring. No one wants to hear about deductibles or monthly rates, and all those claims about having the lowest prices are pure BS, because every time I check they are all charging about the same rate. If you want cheap insurance- drive safer, live in safer neighborhoods, and don't be a moron. For most of us the insurance business is a lose/lose proposition. If you're lucky, your premiums go into the insurance company pocket and you never make a claim. If you're not lucky, something bad happens and you most likely end up paying a lot more out of pocket that you'd thought you would.

Insurance companies know all this. They pretend to talk about rates and ratings, but in the end they just want to make us laugh. And I appreciate it. They aren't selling a product so much as selling a feeling. When you hear their name, you think a warm happy thought about a commercial that you saw and maybe that influences your decision.

The same can be said about many other types of commercials. As the Maya Angelou quote above correctly states, we don't pay much attention to what somebody says, but how we feel when they're around. That's why all the drug company commercials show idyllic families having fun while a voice-over tells you about the horrible side effects that drug might produce. Since most of us are visual and not verbal, those happy visions sink in while the scary dangers pass right through.

One exception to this rule is political commercials, which these days use scare tactics to frighten viewers on who and what to vote against. Emotions top logic every time. I never look forward to election season if only because the deceptive and nasty political commercials dominate the airwaves instead of the goofy and happy insurance commercials.

All this being said, here are my nominations for the six best companies and their commercials, named in honor of Flo from Progressive.

6- State Farm

I love the Jake from State Farm commercials, even if I find it hard to believe that anyone in his right mind would be calling an insurance company in the middle of the night. This ad was so successful it inspired a sequel with a new Jake.

Unfortunately, I'm punishing State Farm for the annoying Cheryl's She Shed commercial that has run forever. I want to bash Cheryl's head in sometimes as she whines about her little She Shed burning up while her husband stands awkwardly by.


Actor Dean Winters has been on many shows, but is best known for his portrayal of "Mayhem", the Allstate commercial spokesman who breaks things and surprises people with wanton acts of destruction. Winters nearly died in 2009 after a bacterial infection and had several operations before getting the role that would propel him into big money.

I enjoy Mayhem's antics as he joyfully destroys things, poking fun at those of us who don't expect the unexpected. Him putting on lipstick in a car in one commercial is priceless.

4. Liberty Mutual

I had never heard of Liberty until this year, but their commercials are funny and memorable. Liberty's mascot is an emu, which is admittedly an awkward and funny-looking bird. LiMu Emu, as he is called, is a mix of CGI and real bird, but he's always entertaining.

Another funny commercial that gets a lot of airplay involves a bad actor messing up his lines through multiple takes, finally ending up only able to say "Liberty biberty" before the director tells him he'll dub the voice, which they do. My other favorite involves a fortune teller named Zoltar who sits in a glass booth and breaks free after someone puts a quarter in his slot.

3- Progressive

Wait a minute- these are the Flo awards and Flo doesn't come in first? My contest, my rules, and when you see 1 and 2 you may agree.

Flo from Progressive, aka actress Stephanie Courtney is one of the most recognizable and highest paid ($500K/year) commercial spokespersons anywhere. Courtney is a comedienne and actress who has appeared in many movies and TV shows I've never heard of. She got her big break in commercials, where her goofy grin and friendly personna helped sell a lot of insurance policies.

Flo, who started in 2008 has been showing up less and less in Progressive commercials, as they test out other characters like Jamie and Mara, neither of whom hold a candle to Flo. But the commercials are still funny, even the socially distanced Zoom commercials done during the pandemic.

2- Geico

Warren Buffett and his insurance company were one of the pioneers of funny animal spokesmen when the Geico gecko was introduced in 1999. The only reason the gecko was even used was because an actor's strike that year kept Geico from using live actors. So instead they went with a lizard.

The gecko is cute, small, and has a disarming accent. He was perfect for selling insurance and got national attention as the company's face. The gecko, who has no name, now has his own Facebook page that's actually quite amusing.

But Geico is more than just the gecko. They have the widest variety and funniest commercials out there. They have the family that deadpans a clogging problem in their new apartment and then shows a bunch of Irish clogging dancers jumping up and down. They used a giant Walrus as a goalie in a hockey game. Kids play in a pool crying out "Marco Polo" as the real Marco Polo stands in the pool with them. The list of funny Geico commercials is long and they almost won this contest, but I missed a lot of them in my 10 year sabbatical from commercials, so here's the winner:

1- Farmers Insurance

I am a sucker for actor J.K. Simmons and anything he appears in. His bald head, his deep voice, and his no-nonsense delivery make him instantly memorable. Farmers hired Simmons and put him in a funny series called "Hall of Claims", where crazy mishaps result in claims that were paid by Farmers.

That's why we pay for insurance- so they'll pay out if things happen. Some of the disasters are based on actual claims that were paid out. The funniest ones involve animals, such as bears, moose, dogs and raccoons that destroy property, cause floods, and perform seemingly impossible tasks. I have no idea if Farmers or any of the others are any good at insurance, but I do enjoy their commercials.

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