Column: Flo is Cool, Jan is Lame

There have been loads of famous company spokespeople over the years, covering every conceivable product and/or service. During the last decade or so, few have been more prevalent than the fictitious spokeswomen for Progressive Insurance (Flo) and Toyota cars (Jan). Flo has been active for Progressive since 2008, and Jan has sold Toyotas since 2012. In my opinion, the former does a fabulous job and is cool, while the latter is boring and lame. Let’s delve into this phenomenon further.

Interestingly enough, both women have somewhat similar backgrounds. Flo is actually Stephanie Courtney, an actress and comedian before she became the Progressive spokesperson. She spent some time in New York at the famous Neighborhood Playhouse developing her comedy act, then did stand-up in L.A. before being hired by the insurance company.

Another actress/comedian named Laurel Coppock became the Toyota lady, Jan. She learned comedy at the famous Second City club in Chicago, as did many more famous people. Then she was in various TV series, ominously including the “Mike Tyson Mysteries,” which was as bad (and brief) as it sounds. She became the Toyota spokesperson, which was no doubt a big step forward financially, but unfortunately a step backward in terms of any kind of talented performance, including even the Mike Tyson series.

Since she became Flo, Progressive has had a series of ads involving her that are, well, progressive! A recent ad features Flo as herself, her mother and her father. An additional Progressive character, Jamie, has convinced Flo’s “parents” to become their agent. Flo’s “Mom” asks why she never told them about all the savings possible. “I’ve told you, like, a thousand times!” replies Flo. Then she leaves as the others sing “Danny Boy.”

In another good ad, Flo meets a Bigfoot, who has tried in vain to actually get noticed (that must be why they’ve never been documented). When Flo refers to him as “Bigfoot” during a conversation, the creature retorts, “My name is Darrell.” Hilarious!

On the other hand, Jan’s ads tend to be extremely mundane and predictable. Toyota occasionally tries to show a more sporty Jan — she might wear something like a fly fishing outfit, complete with waders and rod. She always looks like that’s not anything she would normally do. Then she says something ridiculously cliché like, “It’s the final days of Toyotathon, time for you to get a great deal!” Incredibly lame.

There have been tons of other spokespeople (and some who weren’t people) over the years. I think of Mr. Whipple as one of the original television spokesmen. He encouraged people (women, actually, at the time) to “not squeeze the Charmin,” which is toilet paper to those of you who are oblivious. He was the Charmin spokesman from 1964-1985, amazingly.

Lots of spokes “people” were actually animals like Smokey the Bear, or cartoon-type characters like the Pillsbury Doughboy (hee, hee!) and Speedy Alka Seltzer (stick your head in the toilet, Speedy, so we can watch it fizz!). Even the ones who are supposed to be people aren’t necessarily normal, like the Geico Cavemen.

Also human, although not what he appeared, was the crying Indian who represented an anti-litter campaign called “America the Beautiful” in 1971. The “Indian brave” cries as he looks at all the trash around him. He probably doesn’t speak because he was actually an Italian American actor named Espera Oscar de Corti, which doesn’t sound very native. He went by “Iron Eyes Cody” in various roles as an Indian, foretelling later Spaghetti Westerns.

One of the most ubiquitous human spokesmen currently is Joe Namath, former NFL quarterback and now Medicare supplement pusher. Please shut up, Joe, we’re all tired of you. You should be pedaling pantyhose anyway, partner. Maybe Mike Tyson can help.

Rob is a retired Southern Illinois University instructor who lives on his family's farm in Union County. His mother Joan, who is a nice person, lives in Cape Girardeau.