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Don't go with the Flo

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When will our long national nightmare be over?

The nightmare I mean is the one involving Flo, the white-clad, pasty-faced, garishly lipsticked lump of dough featured in the endless series of commercials for Progressive Insurance. The ad campaign ranks as one of the most irksome of all time on TV, right up there with Mr. Whipple and Morris the Cat.

I’m an agnostic when it comes to advertising, as most people would say they are. Why, then, do some advertisers carry on as if we were all the most gullible of half-wits? Have they done demographics that show that America, or some portion of it, at least, loves Flo? Or do they just subscribe to the venerable theory that says that to have your name impinge on the public consciousness, you must be as obnoxious as possible as often as possible?

Marketing is the real religion in America, and it’s worth examining how companies manipulate its tenets to reap customers, just as any of Christianity’s thousand offshoots, for example, have twisted its tenets to gain adherents.

Progressive Insurance exploits the dubious proposition: Ubiquity proves popularity. So the ghastly Flo pops up every hour or so, notably during sporting events, leading a troupe of new or recurring characters, all of them just as unfunny and unendearing as she. At first, the writers were content to show Flo interacting with zany customers within the confines of a Progressive retail store – is there such a thing? – in ghostly surroundings pale as her moon face. (Why is everything white? Is it some sort of subliminal strategy?) Then the skits became more adventurous, taking the heroine out into the great world, broadening her character and even suggesting (shudder) a sex life.

I’m hoping for a grand finale: Flo falls into a wood chipper and is ground to pieces. The funeral is held at the store, with all of her old friends in attendance. The roof collapses, burying everyone. Fade to white. It’s all been a dream.

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