CMO Q&A: Jeff Charney, Progressive Insurance (Extended)

Progressive Insurance CMO Jeff Charney speaks with Lindsay Stein about mobile efforts, its popular icon Flo, and what's to come in 2012.

Progressive Insurance CMO Jeff Charney speaks to Lindsay Stein about creative marketing efforts, popular icon Flo, and what's to come in 2012.

How do you break consumers of any negative feelings they may hold toward insurance companies?
You interact with a brand like you interact with people. Those who are authentic, open, and have nothing to hide are the people you want to be around.

Progressive is not your father's insurance company. We're a very different brand than you would ever think of in insurance. We are very progressive in our nature and have always been doing things first. We were the first auto insurance to have a website and sell insurance on the Internet. We were the first ad icon on Facebook. We have the number-one advertising icon in the country, judged by Entertainment Weekly readers. Creativity and engagement are just part of our DNA.

If you want to compare rates, compare them with us all day long. If we have the lowest rate, we'll tell you that. If we don't, we'll tell you who has the lowest rate. If you want to name your price, name your price. Why wouldn't you? We'll tell you if we can cover it or not.

Discuss some of Progressive's creative endeavors.
We really want to be everywhere with mobile. We're selling thousands of policies on mobile now. We have five different apps – a Progressive app, a Flo-isms app, a Route-Ragouts mobile game, a Progressive Art app, and the Super Store Shuffle app, which we launched in November.

We also have a Find Flo ad that came out three months ago. You can interact with it using a QR code. Some people are spending 47 minutes playing this game with a print ad. We're also the first car insurer to use [the mobile music identification service] Shazam in TV commercials. It's not monetary, but people want to engage with it and 86% of people have their smartphones with them while they watch TV.

Where is the brand going in social media?
We're going to be everywhere in social media. When I started here in November 2010, we had 500,000 Facebook fans. We have more than 3.2 million now. It's about engaging content. We are trying to get all of our employees to be engaged with the brand. We are very much involved in getting our employees activated, as opposed to just communicating with them. We want them to be just as passionate about our brand as our customers. If you have 24,000 employees, all of them with 140 Facebook friends, and you multiple that 24,000 by 140, you basically have 3.5 million people you're reaching just through your employee base. It's a different world and we embrace it. There's never been a better time to be a marketer.

What will Flo be doing this year?
She is built for this emerging media world. She is a living, breathing, talking icon that people can relate to. And she is being herself. Geckos, lizards, ducks, and hamsters are great, but people can't interact and engage with them in the social media world. Flo embodies the 24,661 employees here. We want to let her continue to be herself, get even stronger in this emerging media marketplace, and allow her to be everywhere customers are.

There's another character called the Messenger. Flo is inside the Super Store all day and the Messenger is a customer interacting with other customers. You'll be blown away by how much he will be interacting live with our customer base in 2012. He will be doing random acts of savings where he will appear at certain places. If you go get gas and it's $4 a gallon, he may appear and buy you a tank of gas. If you're on a plane and it's $10 for a sandwich, he'll buy the whole plane sandwiches. Even at an ATM machine, he'll pick up the fee for you. He'll be paying those savings forward because we should. We want to make sure we're giving savings back to the people.

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