ORLANDO—Trying to guess what Progressive’s chameleon-like character Flo might morph into next is harder than winning the Power Ball lottery. It’s all about taking marketing risks because Progressive is “not like your father’s insurance company,” says CMO Jeff Charney.

Suitably, Charney’s presentation at the recent Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference was titled The Most Feared Four-Letter Word In Marketing. That word is risk, and it’s something that the marketing department of the insurance giant has long championed, he explains in this interview with Beet.TV.

“Risk? First of all, it’s my favorite four-letter word of any four-letter word in marketing and in general. You’ve got to take risks. It’s got to be a company, a culture of risks,” Charney says.

With Flo, portrayed by actress and comedian Stephanie Courtney, one might not think there’s too much risk involved, even though some of her characters can be hard to relate to. Fact is, she’s attracted a great deal of detractors (to put it mildly) among American consumers. But it’s helped Progressive stay top-of-mind.

“It’s all about being part of the consideration set, Charney says. “If I’m thinking about insurance, I got to think about Progressive. I see that woman Flo, I’m thinking about Progressive. Then I go and I quote with Progressive and I convert with Progressive. Next thing I know, I’m a customer for ten, fifteen years. It’s a very competitive environment right now.”

There are 36,000 “marketers” within Progressive, according to Charney. “And in some ways, they really represent our brand, and they also have to be themselves. We don’t want to change who they are, we want them to be who they are. And if they get a chance to take a risk and we support that risk, it extends throughout the company.”

When Flo emerged 10 years ago, there was an obvious risk, Charney says, because she was a woman with black hair and a beret, red lipstick and crazy eyelashes. “That was a risk ten years ago. Now it’s nothing. But we have eight other campaigns besides just the Flo campaign.”

If it seems like some Progressive commercials are impromptu, that’s on purpose. They are shot using script outlines and improvisational actors exclusively.

“We don’t try to get normal actors. So the energy on set is incredible,” says Charney. “It’s almost like Curb Your Enthusiasm, if you follow that. We get script outlines and then we’ve got to get certain messages across, but we let the improv actors have fun with it. And we are surprised sometimes with some of the content we get.”

While he professes an inherent love for marketing, Charney believes that his compatriots need to get braver. “Take risks. It’s a good thing. And when it pays off, it pays off big.”

This series “Growing Brands and Driving Results,” was produced at the ANA Masters in Marketing ’18 conference in Orlando. The series is sponsored by the FreeWheel Council for Premium Video. Please find additional coverage here.