Insurance: Progressive CMO Jeff Charney

Building the brand, one Flo at a time

Ever since the debut of a certain talking reptile back in 1999, it’s been difficult to stand out in the car-insurance business. Nobody knows that better than Jeff Charney. After all, the Progressive CMO used to head up marketing for Aflac. “We had the duck,” Charney says. “But now, Progressive has a walking, talking human being—not a lizard, not a hamster.”

That would be Flo, the sassy spokeslady who sells Progressive’s affordable policies from a fictitious “insurance superstore.” Created under the auspices of Arnold Worldwide, Flo made her debut in 2008, but her marketing might came to full flower in the past year. Progressive introduced “The Messenger,” a male counterpart in TV spots who evangelizes from the road while Flo holds down the home office. Charney’s team also created an online guide for Flo’s fans with tips on how to dress like her, while keeping YouTube supplied with new episodes of “FloChat.” Her Facebook fan base just hit 3.2 million. “This was really Flo’s coming-out year,” as Charney puts it.

Charney focused on the tech front, too. In March 2011, his department launched Snapshot, a device that records a customer’s driving habits for six months and, if he makes the grade, rewards him with a 30 percent cut in his bill. Since its rollout, a quarter of a million people have signed up, “Snapshot is a monster,” Charney says, “a game changer for the industry.”

So is the Progressive app, which debuted this past summer. Its centerpiece, VIN Capture, lets car shoppers take a photo of up to three cars’ vehicle-identification numbers and compare insurance quotes. With it, drivers can also buy insurance, make payments, report a claim, and get weather alerts.

The efforts helped deliver results. For the first six months of 2011, Progressive upped its revenue by $400 million, from $7.4 billion to $7.8 billion; customers who bought Progressive insurance via direct-channel in Q2 grew by 7.8%. “Insurance isn’t the sexiest category out there,” Charney says, “but we’ve distanced ourselves by out-creating the competition, not outspending them.”

Editor's Note: This is just one of ten Brand Genius winners being introduced by Adweek this week. Check back Thursday of this week for more!

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