Progressive Insurance Finds
Castrating Men "Humorous and Entertaining"

One of the visitors to our site sent us this e-mail: "Has anyone taken notice of the Progressive Insurance ad where some jilted woman uses a Voodoo Doll to get even with some guy? She does a bunch of stuff to cause him some pain. They would not have the balls to run a violence against woman ad."

This e-mail also mentioned that she takes a pair of wire cutters to his genitals. I couldn't believe it. How could that be. Must be a misinterpretation. But then I saw the ad. (See http://64.177.226.152/men/balls.ram ) I couldn't believe it. How could this ad ever reach the air, much less the client. How could it get by the FCC. I guess it's the old adage. Men deserve whatever they get for saying or doing something a woman doesn't like without any retribution. However, it does support age old findings that show that a large percentage of domestic violence cases (at least one-third) are perpetrated by women. If that's their point, it makes more sense. It should have a number for the Domestic Violence Hotline after it, however.

The ad shows what appears to be a jilted woman making a voodoo doll on a web site (we presume Progressive offers this service on their web site, since they created this ad to promote their "award winning" web site). He's dancing in a public place with a woman. The apparently jilted woman colors the voodoo dolls feet red. Back on the dance floor, he goes into extreme pain from his feet. Then back to the voodoo doll. She moves a pair of wire cutters across the screen towards his crotch. Back to live action, he's on the couch with this other woman, she's coming on pretty heavy, pulling his shirt up and all of a sudden, he grimaces in shock and looks down at his crotch. We only assume she's castarated him. You check the ad out for yourself at http://64.177.226.152/men/balls.ram and see what you think. Then email your response to everyone in your address book asking them to look at the commercial and see what they think with the suggestion to write Progressive. Maybe flood their 800 number (800.888.7764 is one). You have to wait through their menu and then wait until an operator picks up, but they will take your comments over the phone. We don't know if they go anywhere and we haven't gotten a response for a rationale that we requested, but if enough people call, and enough people write and enough people cancel their insurance and enough people email their friends asking them to do the same, maybe something will happen. We did send an inquiry to Progressive, however. They defended their commercial as humorous and entertaining. I, for one, would have a hard time sleeping at night if I were married to whoever created this commercial. Where did these people come from? Not Venus - since the portrayal of both women supports negative stereotypes of women. They aren't from Mars since they want to mutilate men, also portrayed with negative stereotyping. They even portray a negative and very inaccurate stereotyping of the Voodoo religion. They either have a very strange target market or they really don't understand ethics and target marketing. I think I figured it out. They're from Pluto - and I don't mean the planet.

Our E-Mail

We also wrote to Progressive on 7/24/02 and are awaiting a real response. Since it's been over a month, we've decided to send a letter to the FCC, among other organizations. Consider doing the same.

"We understand you are running very anti-male tv commercials i.e., Voo Doo Doll. If you really are "progressive", we ask that you remove them immediately. It's not funny, it is offensive. If you're not going to, the visitors to our site would like to know your rationale. (We had 38,234 hits yesterday.)" Gordon Clay

Their Only Response

Date: 7/24/2002 12:53:31 PM From: webmaster@progressive.com

Dear Mr. Clay,

Thank you for contacting Progressive directly about our advertising. We take feedback like yours seriously as we develop our advertising plans.

Your feedback will be forwarded directly to our advertising department.

We are proud of our award winning Web Site, progressive.com, and created this advertisement to promote its superiority in a humorous, entertaining manner. We apologize if our advertising offended you in any way.

Sincerely,

Neil Mitro
Progressive Internet Service Specialist
webmaster@progressive.com

Additional Contact Information:

Progressive Insurance
Peter B. Lewis, CEO, President or Glenn M. Renwick, President and CEO (The company operator wouldn't confirm either one.)
6300 Wilson Mills Rd, Cleveland, OH 44143, PO Box 5070 Cleveland, OH 44101, 440.461.5000, Fax 440.446.7168 or
800.Progressive (876.6327) or (888.7764) or webmaster@progressive.com, or www.progressive.com
or e-mail at www.progressive.com/mail/mailfeed.asp
Federal Communications Commission to fccinfo@fcc.gov (See www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaintfiling.html to see what needs to be included.)
Advertising Age, Hoag Levins, Editor, at editor@adage.com, 711 Third Ave, New York, NY 10017 or 212.210.0100. We also e-mailed several of their columnists who appear to write about these kinds of campaigns. We sent them one e-mail so that they would know who else received it. Scott Donaton (sdonaton@crain.com), Jack Neff (Jackneff@earthlink.net), Cara DiPasquale (cdipasquale@crain.com) and Alice Z Cuneo (acuneo@crain.com)
AdCritic.com, 711 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10017 or 888.288.5900 or custserv@adcritic.com
Other sources: tv networks, network shows, congress, etc.

Updated 8/24/02.

Not another word from Progressive regarding our letter so they must stand by their violent ad as being humorous and entertaining. Seems that writing them doesn't do any good. If you or someone you know has insurance with Progressive, you might do what they recommend and shop for another carrier that wants male clients - Progressive obviouslly isn't interested. Here's what one former Progressive client did:

August 19, 2002

Glenn M. Renwick, President and CEO
Progressive Insurance
6300 Wilson Mills Road
Mayfield Village, Ohio 44143

Dear Mr. Renwick:

Today, I have sent an e-mail canceling the motorcycle insurance I have had with Progressive Insurance for a number of years. I have not had any problems with either the insurance product or the service I received from Progressive Insurance. You might wonder, then, what prompted my decision to cancel my policy.

My decision to terminate my relationship with Progressive Insurance is based entirely on an advertisement that Progressive decided to run in its “High Expectations” campaign. I find a number of the ads in this series clever and humorous. For example, the ad where the parents express disappointment at the daughter’s decision to get her tongue pierced without comparison-shopping achieves its humor by exploiting the viewer’s false assumption about the basis of the parents’ complaint. Though it relies on our stereotypes about middle-class parental concerns, it is both entertaining and inoffensive.

However, I was appalled at the advertisement that I will refer to as “Virtual Voodoo”. In this ad, as you know, a woman--portrayed as a smart, demanding shopper--causes a man who is apparently a “cheating boyfriend” embarrassment and pain by using a web site that gives her the “instant results” of, among other things, giving him a “hot foot”, shrinking his head and crushing his testicles. This is supposed to highlight Progressive Insurance Company’s web services.

Violence against men is, like violence against women, not a laughing matter. Nor is it a rarity. According to research funded by the Violence Against Women Act, well over a third of the victims of intimate partner violence are men. Other research, a summary of which is available at http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm and http://www.ejfi.org/DV/dv-7.htm, indicates that violence by women against men accounts for more than half of all intimate partner violence.

It is reflective of stunning insensitivity and appalling gender bias that you could even consider running this ad. The idea shouldn't have even made it out of the mouth of an ad writer in a brainstorming session. If you have trouble understanding the issue here, it is always useful to do a little role reversal. So, imagine that one of your creative ad writers said this: “Why don't we show a woman going out on her boyfriend and then we'll have the boyfriend torturing her through a virtual voodoo program. And, wouldn't it be funny if, right at the end, he crushed her nipples with a pair of pliers or maybe jabbed a barbed rod into her crotch.” How far would that idea go? I'm betting that, if such an ad actually ran, the person responsible for approving it would have gone far--all the way to the unemployment line.

It is just amazing! I'm really stunned that someone actually thought this was a good idea. Fortunately, I can vote with my insurance dollars, and I vote against Progressive. Because I only carried motorcycle insurance (at less than a hundred dollars a year) with Progressive, loss of my business will not be of any direct financial concern to you, of course. Perhaps, though, you will understand that it is reflective of a broader sentiment among potential customers. And I will do what I can to let others know of Progressive’s “progressive” attitudes.

As someone who is active in the men’s studies community, I'm aware that this advertisement is being discussed on various Internet discussion groups. As the moderator of one such group, I have promoted discussion of this ad myself. As a professor of ethics and political/social philosophy at The Ohio State University who often has occasion to discuss issues of gender bias, I will use this as an example of insensitivity to men’s concerns and unawareness of the problem of violence against men. In the age of electronic communication, an advertisement such as this has a life much longer than its run on television and it reaches an audience of potentially sensitive viewers much more effectively than in the past.

Had it not been for an advertisement that I found highly offensive and insensitive, I would never looked for insurance elsewhere. As it happens, I found it for less than I was paying at Progressive. (I guess I should thank you for prodding me to do some of the comparison-shopping you advocate.) But even if my research had shown that I had to pay more to get insurance from another carrier, I would have switched. I will not support with my consumer dollars any company that panders to the sort of mindless “all men are bastards”, “you go, girl” mentality and makes light of violence against men--including genital torture.

Sincerely,

Donald C. Hubin, Ph.D.
Department of Philosophy
The Ohio State University
Columbus, OH 43210-1365
614-292-2505
hubin.1@osu.edu

cc: Moira Lardakis, Chief Communications Officer; Richard H. Watts, Group President of Sales and Service; Alan R. Bauer, Group President of the Direct Business; Bob Williams, Group President of Agency Business; Chuck Jarrett, Chief Legal Officer

Update: 11/17/02: Well, we still haven't gotten a "real" response from Progressive so we wrote Don Hubin, today, to see what he had learned. He wrote back:

Interesting coincidence on the timing of your message. I just saw the Progressive commercial I was complaining about broadcast yesterday here in Columbus, OH. It didn't have the final scene where the "smart shopper" apparently crushes her boyfriend's testicles with a pair of pliers. I don't know whether that is because Progressive has edited the commercial to make it more acceptable or because this was a shorter version of the same commercial.

Progressive never responded to my letter in which I cancelled my policy and objected to the ad, despite the fact that I sent copies to all the top executives at the company. I'm kind of surprised by that.

Don

(Editor: Maybe they've all been 'clipped' and don't have the b---- to respond.)

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