Flo, for Progressive InsuranceEnlarge Photo
When you see a list called the "All-Time Top Ten", you know you're in for trouble. Whether the list is about the ten best quarterbacks in NFL history or the ten best flavors of Jell-O, it's bound to cause a squabble.
So when we saw that AdAge had picked the "Top 10 Female Ad Icons of All Time", we flinched. Not only had editors ranked the best of something, but in doing so, they'd also played the gender card. Oy.
That said, AdAge has some great ad icons on its list, from Betty Crocker, to Mrs. Olson (the pesky coffee shill with a key to every kitchen in America), to Ms. Clara Peller, who went to her grave knowing that she'd changed America with three wee words: "Where's the beef?"
Also on the list: Flo from Progressive Insurance, played by actress and comedienne Stephanie Courtney.
There aren't many female ad icons in the auto industry -- or in this case, the auto-adjacent industry. They're far outnumbered by male counterparts like Joe Isuzu, Ricardo Montalbán, and even Dennis Haysbert (known to many as "The Allstate Guy").
Like all good icons, Flo is memorable without getting in the way of the product she's selling. But what makes Flo a truly great icon is the fact that she's so likable. The Morton Salt girl? She's just a mascot who enjoys walking in the rain and salting the Earth -- probably not the kind of gal you'd invite over for dinner. Flo, on the other hand, is a friend.
That may explain why, in the three years that Flo's been on the air, she's generated huge buzz. Her Facebook page (Flo's, not Courtney's) has 4.6 million fans. She (Courtney, not Flo), has been interviewed for numerous popular magazines. And even when Progressive has gone through rough patches -- as it did a month ago, forcing Flo out of the spotlight for a while -- she's returned, resilient.
To be sure, there are plenty of female icons left out of AdAge's list. In fact, the commenters at NPR have come up with some great also-rans, including Little Debbie, Aunt Jemima, and even Columbia (as depicted in the Columbia Pictures logo).
All of which are great, but we have a hard time thinking of other female icons in auto-themed advertising -- icons with Flo's staying power and personality. If you've got some suggestions, by all means, leave them in the comments below.