A Progressive Approach to Content

You’ve probably seen this television advertisement for Progressive auto insurance: The woman with badly streaked blonde hair fiddles with her water glass in a less-than-charming bistro. Nervously, she informs her nerdy date that their relationship is over.

Nerdy Date is flustered. He leans in and, sotto voce, asks if this latest development has anything to do with “the rash.”

Streaky Blonde shakes her head. It’s not the rash, she informs him. It’s his Web site. “I need more content,” she says in utter frustration.

What? Did she just complain about Web site content on national television? It was enough to make my whole family look up from a macaroni dinner and take notice of what was on the television. It was enough to make me call the marketing people at Progressive Insurance and ask them what inspired the nexus of “Net speak” and clich&eacute television characters — a historic event in the annals of Net culture.

I asked Andrew Ho, Progressive’s consumer marketing director, whether a reference to needing more Web site content played well for the average viewer of “Just Shoot Me” reruns.

“We’re definitely targeting a certain segment of television viewer,” says Ho. “The folks we’re trying to reach clearly understand the concept of Internet content. They’re Web savvy and know about missed expectations.”

According to Ho, the advertisement was inspired by the positive testimonials Progressive has received from Web site users. In particular, users have been very receptive to a rate comparison calculator that allows them to compare competitor rates to Progressive’s, regardless of whether the competitor offers a lower price.

The ad is one of four spots developed by W.B. Doner & Company. Although the three other spots in the campaign do not appeal directly to the Web savvy, they all speak to consumer empowerment. For example, one features a man stranded &agrave la Tom Hanks in the middle of the desert. Finally, a tow truck pulls up. But before he accepts the rescue, the man — clearly accustomed to having choices — asks for the rates from three other tow companies. Another features a choosy woman who surprises her blind date by informing him that he is one of several date choices for the evening and that he’ll have to win her over before they can commence with their night out. The fourth ad shows an indulgent father who demands that the zoo bring the animals to his child’s birthday party rather than taking the tot to the zoo.

Of course, to be effective, Progressive must truly satisfy the demanding consumers it plays to in its advertisements. A quick trip to the Web shows that the company is trying — at least by providing a content-rich site. Among the site’s features are:

  • Interesting content on car ownership (for example, a list of the “most-stolen vehicles” appeared on the day I checked out the site)
  • A tool for making online payments
  • A tool for checking the status of a claim
  • A special site for insurance agents

Keeping the site fresh and content-juicy is a big — and high-priority — endeavor, says marketing director Ho. “We ask ourselves what we can provide that people haven’t seen before,” he says, explaining that developing and maintaining the site requires lots of research, plenty of brainstorming among a highly creative staff, and small-scale prototyping.

“We think great content is defined by the consumer,” says Ho. “It’s giving them what they want and when they want it. In some cases, it’s static information or — in the case of our rate calculator — it can be quite elaborate.”

Progressive measures the success of its Web site in two ways. The marketers look for the number of people moving through the site to complete a transactional process. Also, they look at consumer satisfaction among existing policyholders.

All this diligence, according to Progressive, has paid off in the growth of the organization. And, one can assume, it’s also helped the staffers. I’ll bet it’s been a long time since any of the Progressive folks were dumped by a date because of lousy Web site content.

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