First there was Flo, the kooky TV spokeswoman for Progressive Insurance, stuck inside her weird futuristic white sales habitat, bundling things together, demonstrating the Name Your Price tool and monitoring the security cameras.
I didn’t mind Flo. She was different, a little bit Manic Pixie Dream Girl, quirky without being off-putting. Once she headed out of the store, though, Flo began to seem more sinister. She tried to pick up strangers riding motorcycles. She had that bizarre encounter in the rain with a young man. Was he her lover? Her customer? I didn’t want to speculate about Flo’s love life. I liked her because she was flirtatious without flaunting her sexuality — fun and feminine (sort of) and nonthreatening when she popped up in the lulls of college football games.
Apparently I wasn’t the only person who liked Flo, because not only did her string of commercials grow longer and longer — she was suddenly confronted by a rival. That would be Jan, the Toyota Girl.
I know, I know; Jan is clearly a woman, an adult, not a girl. But she’s girlish, and girlish is annoying. Flo at least gets out and about. Jan just sits at her desk, wearing her plastic Jan smile, chirping to a long line of newcomers about the Toyotathon Sales Event, which so far as I can tell takes place year-round. Jan is like an intern, awkward and eager, cooing over babies, shaking hands with dogs, groveling to customers without a shred of dignity. Unlike Flo, Jan doesn’t have a love life; she gets her thrills vicariously via that Toyota shopper with the (admittedly) hunky puppy-saving, latte-bringing boyfriend. Which is why I was so shocked when, during the NBA playoffs last week, my husband Doug announced, “I think Jan’s pregnant.”
I have a sister named Jan. There was no way she was pregnant. “Are you crazy?” I asked.
Doug pointed to the screen. “That Jan.”
“Oh,” I said.
I should say right up front that Doug and Jan have a history. Not my sister Jan — the TV Jan. He thinks she’s hot. I don’t see it. She’s really just the latest in a long line of I-just-don’t-get-it women Doug finds hot. I first noticed the phenomenon with Teri Garr some 30 years ago. Even today, Doug will stop and watch any movie starring Teri Garr when he clicks on it: Tootsie, Close Encounters, Mr. Mom(!).
I’ve learned by now you can’t argue men out of such attractions — but then, how often do you run across After Hours on late-night? Jan, on the other hand, pops up all the time. Curious about Jan’s swelling midsection, I turned to Google and found she is indeed with child. Toyota and its ad company, Saatchi & Saatchi, are going to use her pregnancy as a way to advance Jan’s storyline, according to MediaPost. Since it took Toyota two years of focus groups and tests of 500 potential spokespersons to find Jan, this is understandable, I guess. Even if Jan doesn’t really have a storyline. Just a lot of customers.
She does have an “unofficial Facebook page” on which guys who agree with Doug post things like, “I think Laurel [that’s Laurel Coppock, who plays Jan] has more sunshine in her face than most any actress I've ever seen” and “If Jan were a Toyota what model would she be and what options would she come with?” (Ewwwww!)
Okay, dudes, whatever. Jan’s going to make the Phillies season seem awfully long. But at least she and Flo have got some new competition: Lily, the AT&T store manager who sniffs out competing Verizon salespeople and tells Grant Hill all about her high-school basketball career.
Lily is an amalgam of Flo and Jan — perky and quirky but not so frantic as Flo, helpful and eager but not so phony as Jan. I think she’s the best of the lot. And since she seems so young, I’m looking forward to following her storyline — perhaps through college graduation, courtship, marriage, kids and even grandkids.
Toyota and Progressive are nice companies, I’m sure. But AT&T dates all the way back to 1876 and Alexander Graham Bell. Coincidentally, Bell always considered the telephone, his greatest invention, to be an intrusion. I can only imagine what he’d think of Lily, Flo and Jan.
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