So, who was the first "Flo"?
December 24, 2015 7:46 PM   Subscribe

My hubs and I were talking earlier about the character "Flo" in the the Progressive commercials and got to wondering... who was the first Flo-like character? I'm thinking Mr. Whipple of "Please don't squeeze the Charmin" fame, I'm sure there must have been someone earlier than that.

So, I dunno if Flo was a planned spokesperson for Progressive or if she was someone who did a couple of commercials and everyone liked her and bam! spokesperson. I mean, remember when the GIECO gecko was just a little gecko who kept getting wrong number phone calls? "No, you want GIECO, not gecko!" now he's one of their most prominent spokespersons.

But how far does this trend go back? And I'm kinda looking for a specific type of character, not like the GIECO gecko who knows he's the spokesperson, but like Flo, who's an actual character, and Mr. Whipple who was the put upon store clerk, and my husband's contribution, the Maytag repairman who had nothing to do because they last so long.
posted by patheral to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm thinking of the Palmolive lady.
posted by heathrowga at 7:53 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Aunt Jemima, maybe? She was in newspaper ads a hundred years ago.

List of American Advertising Characters
posted by mochapickle at 8:04 PM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Yellow Kid
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:34 PM on December 24, 2015

"Betty Crocker" is from 1921.
posted by Mchelly at 8:39 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't know that she was the 1st but Madge the Palmolive lady was on TV beggining in 1966 according to Wikipedia (Jan Miner)
posted by Carbolic at 8:51 PM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

List of human advertising mascots.
posted by gudrun at 8:57 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Josephine the Plumber for Comet was even a little before Madge, I think. She's actually been mentioned in Advertising Age as sort of the Ur-Flo.
posted by holborne at 9:53 PM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Mr Clean has been around a while.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:14 AM on December 25, 2015

Phoebe Snow was advertising anthracite coal for the Lackawanna Railroad by 1906. (Not the singer.)
posted by clew at 12:20 AM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Those lists of mascots aren't what I'm looking for as there not specific to the type. The GEICO gecko is a mascot, Tony the Tiger was a mascot (They're Great!), but the character Flo is a different flavor of commercialism. I dunno how to explain it. There seems to be a trend of them nowadays, Flo for Progressive insurance, the lady for the AT&T telephone company, the receptionist for Toyota, etc... I'd have names, but it's past midnight and I'm too tired to look them up. Madge the Manicurist is inside of that ballpark.

I think the difference is that the "characters" I'm thinking about are actors who interact with other actors as if they are representative of the company they present, if only slightly exaggerated. Whereas Mr. Clean, the GIECO gecko, and Betty Crocker talk(ed) basically at the audience or maintained a unrealistic, unobtainable aura -- for example Mr. Clean is something of a superhero persona.

Sorry if this sounds jumbled, I my meds have kicked in. I'll try and be more coherent tomorrow.
posted by patheral at 12:21 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

(And she isn't in the Wikipedia page, afaict!)
posted by clew at 12:22 AM on December 25, 2015

If you listen to Inner Sanctum radio shows from the forties, there's a character named Mary, who chats with the ghoulish host and promotes Lipton Tea.
posted by peppermind at 2:00 AM on December 25, 2015

There's also the lonely Maytag repairman, Rosie the waitress and Fred the baker ("Time to Make the Donuts"), but like Madge the manicurist, they're all post-Whipple. Mabel the waitress may qualify.
posted by eschatfische at 3:28 AM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

There seems to be a trend of them nowadays, Flo for Progressive insurance, the lady for the AT&T telephone company, the receptionist for Toyota, etc...

Those three are all somewhat similar and I have a feeling the second and third are playing off of Flo-- slightly softened and more satirical maybe? I think Flo really broke ground and that's why there are imitators. Madge and Mabel may well be precursors and that may be the best you're going to do.
posted by BibiRose at 6:57 AM on December 25, 2015

Oh and Josephine too, clearly.
posted by BibiRose at 6:59 AM on December 25, 2015

Best answer: By your description the original Betty Crocker would qualify. Washburn Crosby Flour created Betty Crocker in 1921 to respond to customer questions and act as a spokesperson for the company in print and on the radio. She was an employee who spoke for the company long before she became a brand.

disclaimer: my employer does A LOT of work for General Mills.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:20 AM on December 25, 2015

This article talks about the original ad with Flo (she was a cashier in a "Superstore" that made insurance tangible). She stole the show and the rest is history.
posted by O9scar at 9:12 AM on December 25, 2015

There was also Mrs Olsen for Folgers Coffee, along with Juan Valdez.
Iirc, Mrs Olsen was in Madge's cohort.
posted by dbmcd at 9:40 AM on December 25, 2015

(Yeah, they lump them all together, but if you troll through the human mascots page I linked, they have Flo and Madge and a number of the "characters" of the type you reference listed. Did not have the time at Christmas to read every one myself, but there is a lot of meat there to pick through if you spend a bit of time on it.)
posted by gudrun at 9:45 AM on December 25, 2015

Remember Joe Isuzu?
posted by Dolley at 1:32 PM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about Uncle Sam? Not exactly commercialism, but in some representations, an 'advertisement' for the United States. The vision we're all familiar with was first publicized around 1916, but the concept could arguably be traced back to a real person as far back as the war of 1812. Though there's debate about whether Uncle Sam really originated with Samuel Wilson, It was in the late 1860's that the character first began to circulate, evolving over time into what most of us remember.
posted by SquidLips at 12:46 PM on December 26, 2015

Snapple lady
posted by dipolemoment at 8:46 PM on December 28, 2015

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