Here's What Flo From the Progressive Commercials Looks Like in Real Life
Some commercials just stick with us, and when it comes to company mascots, it's hard to imagine a character who has become more iconic in recent years than Flo from Progressive. Dressed in a white apron with her brown hair tied back in a blue ribbon, Flo is known for always having a smile on her face as she pitches insurance to the viewers of the over 100 commercials she's starred in, but what about the woman behind the character? What does Flo look like in real life?
Flo is and has always been played by an actor named Stephanie Courtney, who started out in improvisational comedy. She joined The Groundlings sketch comedy group before appearing in her first Progressive commercial in 2008, and the rest is advertising history. Read on to learn more about Courtney and what she's doing when she's not selling insurance.
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When she's not wearing her white apron, Courtney is an actor, wife, and mother. Though she is no longer with the main company of The Groundlings—where famous comedians including Lisa Kudrow and Kristen Wiig also got their start—she has a recurring role as Essie Karp on the '80s-set sitcom The Goldbergs. Outside of her professional life, Courtney is married to Scott Kolanach, the lighting director for her former comedy group, and together, they have a son.
"Every crazy old lady character I ever walked out as on that stage had beautiful, peachy gem lighting because he liked me," she told People.
And though we've welcomed Flo into our homes via our TVs so many times over the years that it feels like we know her, the performer behind her is much more private. Courtney seldom posts on her Instagram account and once told The Daily Beast that she lets her husband stay aware of all things internet-related when it comes to her famous onscreen personality. (Yes, Flo has fan accounts.)
Flo has truly become such a major pop culture staple that you might assume Courtney would be stopped everywhere she goes, but she told Cosmopolitan that, without the costume and makeup, she rarely gets recognized when she's out in public.
"Sometimes I feel like I have a double life. I am made up so hardcore for Flo. My hair is teased to the heavens, and I have tons of makeup on," she said. "But when I'm driving around in a ponytail, rarely does anyone know who I am. I've never had a drink sent to my table."
In fact, in 2016, Courtney told Emmy Magazine that without "all of Flo's crazy makeup," she doesn't think she looks like her much at all. And that's probably saved her from some awkward encounters.
Courtney doesn't just star in the Progressive commercials, she's also created a bit of a backstory for Flo, as well. She started off by basing her character on her mom, Jane Courtney, and has kept filling in more details about Flo's life and where she lives. Learning how Courtney pictures her, it's easier to understand why Flo is so happy all the time.
"When I picture Flo in life, she drives her little Mini Cooper around town and it's basically like when Bob Hoskins drove into Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit," she told Cleveland.com. "Basically all the buildings and the birds are singing in her mind. And little humming birds are like 'Hello Flo! Bye Flo!' So I think that's how she sees the world: just a great big Toontown. And I think she's just so excited for any good quality she sees in a person. She's just beyond happy for them; if it's a cute sweater, or they picked a great insurance. She's just beside herself. It's made her day."
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Courtney's main gig might be playing Flo, but it's not her only gig. Aside from her recurring role in The Goldbergs, she's also scored parts in shows including 2 Broke Girls, House, and You're The Worst. You might also have spotted Courtney in the movies The Heartbreak Kid and Blades of Glory.
Courtney sees auditioning and rejection as just part of the business now, which must be a little easier when you've been headlining one of the most popular ad campaigns for years.
"Originally I auditioned for Joan for Mad Men," she told Cosmopolitan. "They said, 'You didn't get that, but will you play a switchboard operator instead?' I said, 'Sure!' Then I saw Christina Hendricks in that emerald dress, and I went, Oh, I get it now. I also auditioned for Pam for The Office. I didn't get far in that audition, but I was such a fan of the British Office I was just excited to be there."
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Nicole Pomarico is a pop culture and entertainment writer. Read more
When I think of iconic TV commercial characters, three come to mind: The GEICO Gecko, the Orbit Gum Girl and Flo from Progressive.
Flo in particular is cool because unlike the ever-in-pink T-Mobile girl or always-beaming Orbit girl, she doesn't seem to be there just for decoration. Flo runs the show at the Progressive store, she knows what she's talking about and she doesn't dress like I did when I was six.
So why didn't we bother to look into who she is? Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Flo is so much more than Flo. A Reddit user tipped us off to the fact that actress Stephanie Courtney, who plays Flo, has appeared in "Mad Men" and "For Your Consideration."
Raise your hand if you'd like to see more of Courtney beyond the aisles of Progressive. We certainly would.
What other commercial character would you like to see out of, well, character?
LOOK: It's Flo!
"Flo (character)" redirects here. For other characters, see FLO#Fictional characters.
Fictional salesperson appearing in a marketing campaign for Progressive Corporation
Flo is a fictional salesperson character appearing in more than 100 advertisements for Progressive Insurance since 2008. Portrayed by actress and comedian Stephanie Courtney, the character has developed a fan base on social networks and has become an iconic advertising mascot.
The character debuted in 2008 through several television advertisements and has since appeared in radio, print, and web banners. The fictional upbeat store employee of Progressive Corporation was created by copywriter John Park and art director Steve Reepmeyer, at the Boston-based agency Arnold Worldwide. Flo has appeared in more than 100 advertisements.
In 2011, Progressive introduced Flo's Australian counterpart, Kitty, played by Holly Austin. In 2014, other recurring characters were added to the advertisements. Jim Cashman plays Jamie, Flo's sidekick. In 2020, another Progressive employee was added, Mara, portrayed by Natalie Palamides.
Flo is a cashier and is recognizable by her extremely upbeat personality, sparkling white uniform, heavy makeup, and retro hairstyle. According to Courtney, it takes one hour to prepare Flo's hair and another to apply her make-up. Referring to her work in The Groundlings, she said, "Flo could be one of my improv characters, always on and sort of cracked in a weird way." She thinks that the GEICO gecko "puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does".
In November 2014, Progressive aired its 100th advertisement featuring Flo and introduced other members of her family including her mother, father, brother, sister, and grandfather. All of these characters were also played by Courtney, who was reported to have spent about 12 hours doing hair and makeup transitions for the recording.
In October 2009, the Boston Herald referred to Flo as "the commercial break's new sweetheart" and said Courtney was "attaining TV ad icon status". The same article also reported that she was the subject of a popular Halloween costume. There are multiple websites and social media groups that are either dedicated to or talking about her. The volume of commercials and the type of humor is off-putting to others, described as "love her or hate her" or "badvertising".
Advertising Age described Flo as "a weirdly sincere, post-modernJosephine the Plumber who just really wants to help. She has; the brand is flourishing." This was later echoed in an article from Duane Dudek in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 20, 2014, who credits Flo for inspiring a new trend of female commercial pitch people and cementing her legacy alongside Josephine and Palmolive Dishwashing Detergent's Madge the Manicurist.
Flo was added as a downloadable character in the video game ModNation Racers in late 2010, complete with her own Progressive kart.
- ^Garcia, Chris (October 20, 2008). "The Strange Allure of the Progressive Insurance Girl". Austin American-Statesman. ISSN 1553-8451. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Inman, David (December 14, 2008). "TV Q&A with David Inman". Boston Herald. ISSN 0738-5854. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Scholer, Makeli (September 2, 2009). "Who is This Girl in Progressive Insurance TV Commercials?". AMS Insurance.
- ^"Check Out". Brickyard VFX. Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Staff (2011). "Progressive". Arnold Worldwide. Archived from the original on September 18, 2010. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Staff (2012). "Home". Australia: Progressive Direct Insurance Company. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Biography for Holly Austin at IMDb
- ^Parsley, Aaron (September 2, 2009). "5 Things to Know About TV's Progressive Insurance Lady". People. ISSN 0093-7673. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Chris (October 5, 2017). "The strange allure of the Progressive Insurance girl". Retrieved May 31, 2020.
- ^"Progressive Girl Has Strange Pull On WSB-TV Channel 2 Viewers". Atlanta, Georgia: WSB-TV. December 2, 2008. Archived from the original on November 1, 2012. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Ashley Rodriguez (November 12, 2014). "Flo's Progressive Evolution". Adage.com. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
- ^Falcone, Lauren Beckham (October 7, 2009). "Insurance pitchgirl a surprise TV hit". Boston Herald. ISSN 0738-5854. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^"I Hate Progressive Insurance For Waking Me Up Over And Over". Consumerist. October 24, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
- ^"Progressive Insurance Commercial Hate". Commercialhate.blogspot.com. January 30, 2009. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
- ^Garfield, Bob (December 15, 2008). "The Bobby Awards". Advertising Age. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Dudek, Duane (May 20, 2014). "Progressive's Flo extends a spokeswoman tradition that goes back to Josephine the Plumber". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Dudek Abides Blog.
- ^Coker, Jason (October 4, 2010). "ModNation Monday: Free Mod, 'Family Guy' Spotlight Next Week!". PlayStation.Blog (Sony Computer Entertainment America). Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- ^Russell, Ramone (November 15, 2010). "ModNation Monday: Carnival Parts Pack and 'Free' Progressive Kart next week!". PlayStation.Blog (Sony Computer Entertainment America). Retrieved June 2, 2012.
You might not know standup comedian and actress Stephanie Courtney by name alone, but you definitely know her by her TV persona, Flo, from the Progressive Insurance ads. Courtney has been playing Flo for eight years and has gained a certain notoriety for doing so.
So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that TMZ approached her on the streets of Los Angeles — sans makeup and the bouffant hairdo — to ask her if, as Harrison Ford’s insurance provider, she was concerned about the actor’s recent plane incidents.
“He is a Gold Star customer,” Courtney told TMZ. “I’m sure he’s fine.”
TMZ reminded her that Drake gave her a shout-out on Saturday Night Live and asked, “Can you bust a flow?”
“I can’t,” she laughed. “I’m not capable.”
Courtney, 47, is an alum of The Groundling’s Theatre & School in Los Angeles, which counts Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Lisa Kudrow, and many others among its starry graduates. She’s logged time in an impressive number of movies and TV shows, including Mad Men, Blades of Glory, 2 Broke Girls, and a hilarious turn as the bookstore manager in You’re the Worst.
But it’s her role as Flo that’s made her an icon of the TV landscape. It was a role Courtney was allowed to make her own, and she did — using her mother as inspiration.
“I went in for an audition eight years ago for a ‘big box store employee,’” Courtney told USA Today last October. “And I put on my polo shirt and put my hair in a ponytail and showed up.
“What they were looking for was basically a friendly neighborhood waitress; she is superfriendly and nice, almost to the point of madness, and I was like, ‘I can do that.’ I went straight to my mom, and I credit her with Flo’s personality. I said, ‘Yes, I can become Jane Courtney!’”
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In a full-circle moment, the Progressive commercials once did a parody of TMZ — among other stand-out moments, including Courtney poking fun at a sexist insurance salesman and another in which she played five members of Flo’s extended family. It’s little details like these that have helped elevate Flo to iconic pitchwoman status, hence why she’s being approached by TMZ on the street.
Flo is so popular that she’s been a Halloween costume favorite for years, spawning a YouTube video showing people how to amend their Flo costume to become Zombie Flo, Unicorn Flo, and more. There are even Flo-related Pinterest and Facebook pages.
For Courtney, Flo is a collaboration between herself and the writers who created her. Noting that the writers are open to her input and that she has the opportunity to improv a bit, Courtney said that Flo’s continued existence can be chalked up to a passionate fanbase that loves her perky realness.
“Everyone sees something different in Flo,” she shared. “In a lot of advertising, you’re sold perfection, and that’s pleasing but ultimately, not realistic. Flo is not perfect; her hair and makeup, things have slipped through the cracks. That’s something to watch.”
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Certainly Flo has her detractors. Huffington Post spoke to some media types who offered their salty input, including a retired New York book editor who called her ads “irritating,” a videographer who referred to her as “creepy, weird,” Los Angeles PR professionals who said she was “dorky and unattractive,” and a veteran marketing guru who declared, “Yech, I’d rather watch the (Aflac) duck.” But if Courtney has her way, we’ll be seeing Flo for a long time to come.
“I don’t know, how much plastic surgery would it take?” Courtney cracked. “I could be propped up on a gurney or something. Who knows?”
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