By Timothy Magaw
As Progressive Corp. was sizing up how to best use Facebook to reach potential customers, its marketing team figured it would go directly to the social media giant to find out how to best embrace the platform. The results of the collaboration is a new campaign that launches this week and involves short and relatively non-invasive spots starring Progressive's iconic pitchwoman Flo designed specifically for the social media platform.
At the onset of the project, the Mayfield Village-based insurer discovered, perhaps surprisingly, that it was the first company to reach out directly to Facebook for insight on what sort of content works best. Facebook's internal agency and Progressive's internal agency, 96 Octane, worked together to shoot the spots. In its work with Facebook, Progressive gleaned that most brands simply repurpose television spots and post them on the platform — a practice that overlooks how people experience and interact with content in their feeds.
The idea, Progressive chief marketing officer Jeff Charney said, was to "crack the code."
"A lot of marketers are so proud of their art, but they don't know the science," Charney said in a recent interview with Crain's. "(Facebook) knows the science backwards and forward, upward and down. It's not the thing I find most creative, but it works on their model."
The new spots, for example, are all filmed with a vertical orientation, which Facebook has said its users tend to prefer. Marketing Land reported last August, for instance, that Facebook started favoring the vertical orientation, which had been largely popularized by Snapchat — an update that applied to videos, ads and live broadcasts.
One of the Progressive spots, for example, mimics Facebook's live video vibe with floating emoticons. Another has Flo (portrayed by improv comic Stephanie Courtney) donning a fortune teller costume. The spots are not Progressive's most imaginative and done so by design. The idea is to simply grab users' attention within a few seconds, not necessarily tell a story with its rotating cast of characters.
"You're fighting for eyeballs," Charney said.
Facebook, meanwhile, is still by far the most popular social media platform, and its dominance shows no signs of slowing. According to a November 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, about 79% of Americans use Facebook — more than double the portion that uses Twitter (24%), Pinterest (31%), Instagram (32%) or LinkedIn (29%).
As for TV ...And although Progressive is blazing new trails in digital, it hasn't abandoned television, although it typically sits on the sidelines during TV's biggest stage.
Progressive's "Social Etiquette" spot, which premieres Feb. 20 on national television, stresses the concept of waiting one's turn — or, as Charney sees it, waiting for the dust to settle after the Super Bowl. The spot — a sequel to Progressive's "Black and White" spot — stars Flo being interrupted for talking finances, eating and, well, being a woman. The ad also channels the charged atmosphere in which we're living, Charney said, and explores the concept of waiting one's turn even you're being treated unfairly.
"Just like Flo in that ad, she's listening, waiting for the right time to speak," Charney said. "That's how we are as marketers. We're not going to outspend anybody. We're going to out-create them."
Here's the spot, which premiered on social media shortly after the Super Bowl:
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