Progressive Insurance has aired this commercial as part of its robust television ad platform featuring Flo the cashier on a variety of mainstream networks. I recently saw the commercial while watching television with a friend and commented on how progressive (pun intended) the insurance company is with their ad campaigns by featuring a gay couple. My straight friend retorted flatly, “They’re not gay. What about them says they’re gay? They’re just two friends.”
With this ad, Progressive has used a technique first identified by journalist Michael Wilke in Ad Age in 1997 called “gay vague.” The ad appeals to gay consumers by featuring a couple who, to homosexuals like myself, appear to be gay. However, the reference is vague enough that it doesn’t turn off the company’s heterosexual customers.
As it turns out, Progressive didn’t intend for the commercial to be gay at all. In case you missed my article in Echelon magazine this week (pages 24 & 25), I reviewed Progressive’s new Faces of Pride campaign. That article was written based on Echelon editor-in-chief Michael Lamb’s notes from an interview with Progressive Advertising Director Miriam Deitcher. When asked about the commercial, Deitcher replied, “We got feedback from people who think the characters are gay. We understand that. We were just trying to set up two friends; one has to sell a watch because he was low on money. We were comfortable with the way it turned out.”