Progressive's Flo Plays in The Sims Social and Instagram

Progressive Insurance certainly doesn’t shy away from putting its brand in the hands of quirky, fictional characters. We’ve all seen the TV spots featuring Flo and those will continue to be a primary channel for the brand’s marketing strategy. But over the past year, Progressive has tried to broaden its reach in social media with cross-branded campaigns on Instagram, Words With Friends and The Sims Social.

progressive-instagramAuto insurance companies like Progressive need to reach kids or young adults before they start driving, said Jon Beamer, marketing innovation business leader at Progressive. “Market entrants are young folks” and “those people are watching less and less TV,” he said. “That’s certainly part of our calculus, trying to get to that consumer when they’re making their initial insurance purchase. Our brand, because it is a young, quirky voice, tends to skew young anyway and that plays well with the Facebook audience.”

On Instagram, the company teamed up with photographer Lauren Randolph to generate high quality photos from Progressive’s latest commercial shoot with Flo (Photo, left, by Lauren Randolph). Progressive began borrowing Randolph’s existing audience on July 23 when her pictures began going live. “We are losing a little bit of creative control, we aren’t scripting,” said Beamer. “The benefit is you get a real audience that you wouldn’t get anyway. That loss of control is worth the impressions.”

Beamer added: “The traditional marketer would look at percent of the media spend to generate content. This is a play where you have to create the content…. But when you figure in the value of the reach, the value of the impressions you’re getting, it’s very cheap.”

Progressive also recently integrated its brand message into Words With Friends, where it ran a series of mobile ads at the bottom of app for one week that challenged players to play one of three words for a badge on Facebook. The banner ads lead users to a site where they could learn more about Progressive’s Snapshot service or sign up for a quote. On Words With Friends, Progressive found that “you’re getting an educated audience while they’re relaxed and doing something fun,” Beamer said.

"Social media has very rapidly hit a point of ubiquity where it makes a lot of sense for us to engage in these digital expressions of the Progressive brand,” said Chris Scott, emerging media manager at Progressive. “The digital expression of these campaigns doesn’t really change our targeting all that much. But, the overall approach to these campaigns is a little different. Because social tends to be such an engaged medium, we do feel the bar is a little higher in terms of the experience consumers are having.” The last thing Progressive wants is a destructive or negative experience in a game, he said.

In partnership with EA, Progressive was able to insert a character based on Flo into The Sims Social, developing the first branded quest in the game. “It does mirror the action we want people to do in the real world,” said Scott. But as should be expected on a virtual quest to win a sparkled lawn ornament, the integration was also “a little funny, a little whimsical… It was enough fun to offset the pedestrian insurance realities,” he said.

“The question is, can you take advantage of that experience they’re having, slip a message in, but slip a message in that isn’t invasive,” Beamer said. “What can we do that will meet our goals as an advertiser [while] enhancing the experience of the game player?”

Beamer said the insurance provider will continue to experiment as it ventures into new channels. “Just as you’re seeing fragmentation in the industry in the number and the types of places where advertisers can spend money, we will certainly see fragmentation in where we can spend money in new media types,” he said.

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