5 Tips From Progressive’s CMO on Building a Brand That Cuts Through the Clutter

Starts with fresh content and a cast of characters

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In a competitive, jam-packed category like insurance, it can be difficult to reach consumers in an interesting and relevant way. Over the years, Progressive has managed to portray itself as a fun, likeable brand by creating a relatable character that's stood the test of time. 

So how did the brand break through all the noise? 

Speaking at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando, Fla., Progressive CMO Jeff Charney shared insight into how Progressive has been able to take marketing for an insurance brand to the next level. Here are a few of his suggestions:

Don't follow the latest trends

Charney said if you're doing what everyone else is doing in the marketplace, then there's no way you'll be able to make your brand stand out. Marketers need to forge their own paths and be leaders, he said. Using nostalgia as a tool for connecting with consumers, or what Charney referred to as "memory-lane marketing," was a way for Progressive to inject itself into Internet culture in a way that was different from other insurance companies. 

In a recent campaign modeled after an after-school special, Flo delivers the now famous line, "Sprinkles are for winners," which was completely improvised on set. It's now become a meme-worthy sensation and even appeared in a Lil Wayne song. 

Do things people don't expect of you

Right around last year's Super Bowl, just as interest in Marshawn Lynch was peaking, Progressive decided it wanted its next social push to star the Seattle Seahawks running back. Focusing on the fact that Lynch is a man of few words, the brand got him to share more than just a few words about car insurance in a social-only push that went viral. 

It was an unexpected partnership but one that paid off in the end for Progressive.

Run your operation like a Hollywood studio

At Progressive, Charney runs his operation like a Hollywood studio. The brand has built a host of supporting characters around Flo, including her family. In eight years, the brand has continued to build storylines and new content around its cast of characters.

"Fresh content wins," Charney said.  

Don't rely on demographic data

Demographic data really isn't that important because it can sometimes be misleading, the CMO said. Rather, "it's the insights behind the data. It's the 'so what?''' that matters more. That idea led Progressive to develop one of its newest characters, Baby Man.

Disruption is not dead 

Some may say the idea of disruption is an outdated fad, but Charney argued disruption is very much alive. "If you don't disrupt, you're wasting money," he said.

An example Charney pointed to was Progressive's recent trip to New York Comic Con, where the brand—using the insight that people hate waiting in long lines—created the Protector Corn, a unicorn that saved people's spot in line so they could walk around, go to the bathroom or grab a coffee.

@ktjrichards katie.richards@adweek.com Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.