They are the money honeys of television commercials and are so familiar, that it’s almost as if they are part of the family.
With her perky, girl-next-door look, Jan from Toyota — A.K.A. Laurel Coppock — and the more zanily humorous Flo from Progressive — Stephanie Courtney — are America’s most visible TV commercial characters; and they’ve made a fortune for their corporate overlords.
If you buy a Toyota or sign up for Progressive auto insurance, you might well have been sold by watching Jan and Fly’s amiable smooth spiels; the two have each been pitching in hundreds, if not thousands, of 30-second spots for more than a decade.
And their companies have the rewards to show for it.
This month, Progressive shares soared 8 percent, after having written almost a whopping $6 billion worth of premiums, making the stock the S&P 500’s top performer of the day.
Last November, it was named the country’s largest motor insurer, edging out State Farm for the first time, according to Insurance Business Magazine.
Toyota Motor Company nearly doubled its operating profit from a year ago, it revealed at the beginning of August, and became the world’s most profitable motor manufacturer, taking the title from Tesla for the first time since 2021.
Toyota is forecasting a $21.14 billion annual profit, a good part of it courtesy of those spots by Jan.
A Toyota insider tells The Post, “Toyota couldn’t do it without Jan out there pitching for the company. She’s beloved by the public and that sells cars — lots and lots of cars.”
The two are not, of course, the first pitchwomen in the ad business, and follow in a long line that includes the Sun-Maid Raisin girl, the Morton Salt under-the-umbrella girl, and Miss Chiquita, of the banana company.
But Flo and Jan are undoubtedly the most successful — with strangely overlapping careers.
Both New York-trained actress-comedians, they’ve each become millionaires many times over hawking their sponsor’s products.
Flo was first on the scene.
In 2008, Ohio-headquartered Progressive was desperately in need of an identity. It turned to the Boston-headquartered advertising agency, Arnold Worldwide.
Madcap like the Flo character it spawned, Arnold is an agency located in an old Boston department store that boasts it “once dumped 1,200 body bags” outside a major cigarette company’s headquarters – a brazen act, but one that resulted in more than a “million people quitting smoking,” Arnold claims.
The company was founded by Arnold Rosoff, in 1946, who, in 1986, sold the shop to his employees – crossing “Mad Men” with Mad Magazine.
It brags that it holds the record for the “world’s largest beach ball,” sees itself like a cult “if cults were super chill and you could leave whenever you wanted,” and is committed to “diversity and inclusion” for everybody “but a–holes.”
It was that vibe that created the zany character of Flo — and aptly, the role was filled by a “Mad Men” actress, Courtney, now 53.
In that first ad, a fictional Progressive customer shouts, “Wow,” knocked out by the insurer’s many customer services.
Courtney makes her debut as Flo, a bubbly and beaming Progressive cashier in a sparkling white uniform, vintage hairstyle, and pinup heavy makeup that took two hours to put together, and is equally enthusiastic, declaring, “Wow! I say it louder…”
And, with those five unscripted words, a star was born.
A Progressive executive declared to Fast Company, “When she said that, we realized she really had something special, she was a character with real character. We saw it and we jumped on it. It took us a couple of spots, but we started to move the focus on her.”
The Boston Herald called her “the commercial break’s new sweetheart,” and Advertising Age referred to her as “a weirdly sincere, post-modern Josephine the Plumber” — the popular commercial mascot for Comet cleanser in the late 1960s, played by a 1930s child star, Jane Withers.
Born in Stony Point, in Rockland County, NY in February 1970, Courtney graduated with a degree in English from Binghamton University and studied acting at the Manhattan’s Neighborhood Playhouse.
She moved to Los Angeles, becoming a member of the sketch comedy group The Groundlings where she met her husband, the theater’s lighting director; Courtney has compared the “always on” Flo to one of her improv characters.
Along with her main job pitching Progressive she’s had recurring roles in such TV series as “The Goldbergs.”
Flo’s success prompted Toyota to look for its own female mascot four years later, “Toyota Jan” was created by its ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
Courtney auditioned for the role — meaning Flo could have become Jan — but it went to Coppock.
The two have uncannily similar careers: Coppock had also been a member of the Groundlings, in L.A., and she had also studied acting in New York, at the Circle in the Square Theater School.
She secured small acting parts and behind-the-scenes gigs before being picked to play Jan from 500 actresses who were auditioned.
Virtually overnight, sassy and charming Toyota Jan became an icon, with her warm smile and trademark red dress.
Coppock mostly plays a receptionist at a fictional, and bustling, Toyota dealership where she pitches the newest models and deals.
During the automaker’s Toyotathon sales campaigns, it seems she’s seen in her TV spots virtually around the clock.
Toyota has one of the largest ad budgets in the automobile industry – and Toyota Jan is its centerpiece.
When Coppock, now 46, became pregnant with her first child in 2014, and her second in 2018 – she’s married to TV writer and show creator Bobby Mort – Toyota and its ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi produced its new commercials to include the babies’ arrivals.
She has shared her pregnancy experiences on her online brainchild, The BreakWomb, a popular YouTube channel some 8 years ago, where she and two other mothers discussed such things as their favorite children’s book, including one called, “Go the F**k to Sleep.”
In recent years, however, Flo and Jan have moved apart as characters, with Flo spawning a cinematic universe.
She now has her squad: Jamie, Alan, Imani, Mara, and Rodney, and their spin-off commercials which include Mara’s “parents,” not to mention untold numbers of Halloween partiers who go out dressed as her.
And she has storylines: In 2022, Flo was romantically pursued by Jon Hamm, in a strange twist on Courtney being in “Mad Men.”
As The New York Times once pointed out, Flo “has become one of the most popular ad characters in a category chockablock with them.”
Progressive’s Flo is considered one of the most famous women’s brand mascots, ADWEEK has observed. Even pets have been dressed to match, a fact which Progressive is proud to share online.
The success of Flo and Jan has inevitably spawned imitators. Liberty Mutual has zany humor with LiMu Emu and Doug (played by David Hoffman), Verizon adopted “SNL’s” Kate McKinnon for its own pitches, and AT&T hired Milana Vayntrub as Lily.
None have been quite as successful as Flo or Jan. Or as trusted.
When Covid struck in 2020 and auto sales, including Toyota’s, were plunged into crisis, the automaker and its agency decided to feature its signature character, Jan, proclaiming that Toyota was open for business and service “for your peace of mind.”
The ads showed Jan in a plain setting, but with a Toyota coffee mug in front of her, and with her reminding viewers, “We’re here for you.”
As Ed Laukes, group V.P. of Toyota marketing said at the time, Jan was used for the spots because “she’s the trusted face of Toyota for instant recognizability.”
Ironically, Jan says she doesn’t get recognized much in public. “Most times people think I am someone they went to school with.”