Flo Is a Problem for Progressive in Social-Media Crisis

Charming ad character now insipid

Progressive Insurance is surely longing for the days when the Internet's most pressing question about its spokeswoman Flo was whether she is hot or not.
     Matt Fisher's devastating Tumblr post about the death of his sister, a Progressive customer, in a car accident—and his claim, though the company denies it (UPDATE: which Fisher insists, once again, is true), that it defended her killer in court in an effort not to pay out the benefit on her policy—have left Flo completely out of her depth. It's true of any bright, bubbly mascot when its owner does something insidious. They suddenly look clownish and insipid. (Had Geico been the offending party, the gecko would be swiftly fed through the lizard grinder.) And it's worse with Flo, who was already seen by many, with her too-happy demeanor and plastic sheen, as somewhat creepy.
     Progressive understands Flo is now a liability, at least for now, though the company was way too slow to replace her avatar with the corporate logo on its main Twitter account—leaving Flo to smile maddeningly as she robo-spammed canned responses at people who had read Fisher's story and were horrified. (Flo hasn't said anything on her own Twitter page in several days. The actress who plays her, Stephanie Courtney, hasn't tweeted yet—and of course, this has nothing to do with her, anyway.) Over on Facebook, Flo is seen in the latest post thinking deep thoughts, under this status update: "Is it possible to have déjà vu of déjà vu?"—a note, posted before Fisher's, that now seems oblivious at best. (Her thought bubble says "#flowonders." Surprisingly, that hashtag has been hijacked by only a few people on Twitter.)
     Even random consumer-generated Flo content is getting savaged—like the photo above, titled "The Great Wall of Flo," posted by a fan to Progressive's Facebook page. The only comment in response: "With this many Flo's, you could be screwed out of your progressive policy payout TEN TIMES all at once!"
     In the end, Flo will survive—she's too big to fail. But don't expect her to utter a word about this. As Go Daddy would say, she's what's outside. The lawyers are what's inside.