They were television advertising icons who resided on the banks of our cultural consciousness.
Mr. Whipple (Charmin bathroom tissue). Madge the manicurist (Palmolive dish detergent). The Maytag Repair Man. Even the Qantas koala bear.
Those were just a few commercial characters who invaded our living rooms in the 1970s and '80s. Their ads---usually 60 seconds in length or even longer---were rarely the same. The format might have been nearly identical, and of course the tag lines were ("DON'T squeeze the Charmin!"), but each appearance by Mr. Whipple or Madge usually had them interacting with different customers.
The actors behind the characters were often nameless, as it should have been, but I'm sure their paychecks weren't nameless---or paltry.
The pitchman on TV these days is usually a local litigator or a voice-over hawking prescription meds.
There isn't really any character that is iconic---no one who, when they appear on the screen, instantly lets us know what product is being advertised.
Except for Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl.
Played by Stephanie Courtney (we only know that because this is the Internet age), Flo first started appearing on TV in the late-2000s. Her cheery attitude, dark hair, blood red lipstick and ridiculously long eyelashes, all packaged in an all-white uniform, screams insurance at the moment of seeing her.
To Progressive's credit, the Flo ads are kept fresher than most other TV spots, which can gag you with their repetitiveness and lack of variety (i.e. those same three Liberty Mutual Insurance ads that are rotated).
Progressive has put Flo in all sorts of situations, from riding motorcycles to consoling a man in a locker room to being tied to a stake (in an ad that puts Flo in different eras in world history).
But unlike the advertising characters from days gone by, who were mostly universally liked (or, at the very least, tolerated rather easily), Flo, for whatever reason, is a polarizing sort.
My mother, for example, can't stand Flo. I, on the other hand, find Flo attractive in an odd way.
Trolling the Internet, this polarization is acute.
There are Flo-hating websites and forums, as well as those that are visited by men who make no bones that they would like to do some things (sexually) to Flo that are unfit to print here. Other comments on Facebook et al have been from females who like Flo just because they think she's likable.
Courtney, for her part, has never understood the allure of Flo, sexually.
"The GEICO gecko puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does," Courtney has been quoted as saying.
Regardless of where you stand on the Flo issue, one thing can't be disputed: She's a throwback to a time when TV advertising was flush with identifiable characters and mascots. Back when TV hawked more than just insurance, beer, cars and drugs.
Flo's Facebook page has nearly 5 million likes, though that number has been dipping in recent years from its peak of 5.4 million.
Like them or not, the Flo spots at least are freshened up rather frequently. Her character, these days, is seen less in that all-white, fantasy Progressive Insurance "store" and more in various situations and venues.
And, no doubt, Flo has made Stephanie Courtney's wallet fatter than it likely would have been had she been forced to stick to more traditional bit parts on TV and in the movies, as she was doing prior to Flo.
You pretty much love Flo or you hate her; it's hard to be on the fence with her. She's the Howard Cosell of modern television that way.
The GEICO gecko, by the way, should get props for its popularity and freshness of new spots.
Who would have thought that the world of insurance would take over TV advertising?