Natural Hair Mag

The Flo-Complex: White Women As Manic Pixie Props For Ads


If you have had a television for the past decade…and you actually watch it…you probably know who Flo is. Yes, the hyper-energetic, retro-looking white woman who is corporate America’s dream: a person who has no needs, no home, and no story. Someone who just wants to work and is “on” 24 hours a day. She is the happy, energetic slave for Progressive Insurance and she’s become a household name and figure for most Americans who watch television.

In fact, Flo is a manic pixie dream girl for the Progressive company. For those of you who have never heard of that term before, it refers to the ways that women are represented in film as characters who are overly energetic, and who want to please their men more than anything else. They act silly all the time because awwww….she’s a woman. They might break out in dance randomly because they’re just so free! If you’ve seen the film Garden State, think of Natalie Portman’s [extremely annoying] character.


Here’s Natalie Portman’s character dancing because she’s so weird, man.

Manic pixie dream girls are  women who are infantalized and who act silly…like all the time. In a Feminist Frequency video, Anita Sarkeesian explains this phenomenon further:

“That bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” 

I’m starting to see this trend in commercials where white women act as hyper-energetic, infantalized props who have no story. It seems like they live at their place of work. Some of the commercials are just getting more embarrassing and degrading. While these women are not necessarily acting silly for a man’s attention [which is the characteristic element in the manic pixie dream trope], they are acting as props for products. Here are just a few commercials I’ve recently seen that subscribe to this manic pixie dream trope:

(1) Perhaps the most ridiculous (and literal) manic pixie prop makes an appearance in the commercial for Sparkle paper towers. The woman who serves as the prop is dressed as a blue fairy. Yeah. Evidently, she seems to literally live on the paper towel aisle in the grocery store. In fact, I have no clue where she comes from or what her story is.


(2) Next is the Cascade Kitchen Counselor who literally comes out of nowhere to help settle “serious” disputes about dishes. Like, does she live in people’s kitchens? She literally just comes from no where with dish detergent.


The Cascade Kitchen Counselor is in the center.

(3) Here’s a new commercial for Downy. A woman is going to sleep in her own home, and another random white woman pops out from nowhere with products. She’s really energetic and excited, and I really don’t know why.


The creepy white woman who appears from no where.

(4) Here’s a manic pixie prop woman for Phillips Fiber products. It seems like the creators for these ads were attempting to find someone who resembled Flo since the Flo-model has evidently worked for Progressive. In these commercials, this nameless woman literally pops up in really random places and shows how overly enthusiastic she is for Phillips products. She even wears shirts proclaiming her love for fiber, and others that state she’s “regular.”


While I understand that the examples I provided are merely advertisements, I think it’s uncomfortable that adult women are supposed to play these one-dimensional infantile billboards for products. They come across as corporate cheerleaders, rather than women selling products. [Also, I just think this whole manic pixie trope is uncreative and  boring!] We get it–Flo worked for Progressive, but that doesn’t mean that her prototype is going to work to sell everything.

Although men *can* be used as props in ads [think about the Oxyclean guy…probably one of the most irritating people on television], they do not have to act silly or cute. I would agree that men *can* be characterized as young boys whose wives act as their mothers in commercials, but that’s for a whole other post.

While commercial advertising has improved for women, I think we should stray away from the manic pixie dream corporate cheerleader trope because it’s just awkward, and at this point, overused. Having a woman pop out of my cabinet with a product isn’t going to convince me to buy it.

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  • Angela

    Ads are meant to sell products within a short time limit. By nature, they will be over the top and feature characters/mascots. Characters that aren’t remotely realistic but are identifiable by a board audience. Image takes precedence over content. The majority of the ads and commercials created lack the realism of real life situations. I.e. blue liquid representing menstrual blood with the “Have a happy period!!” tagline in pad and tampon ads. All of this along with the women being happy about having their periods.

    But I believe viewers should be able to make the distinction between reality and fantasy.

    There is a lack of ads and commercials featuring relatable characters in “realistic” real life situations. But I’m also skeptical when companies do as such because I know it’s a marketing ploy to sell products.

    Besides this, I agree about the manic pixie character. It is over sold. Jess, Zooey Deschanel’s character on New Girl for example. When I first viewed the show, I was more annoyed than amused by her character’s antics. i.e. being embarrassed to say the word “penis”, making funny and cute faces and sounds. Upon viewing a recent episode, I see that the “manic pixie” persona of Jess was toned down. And that the character encounters realistic situations such as choosing between two jobs, dating a male room mate,etc

    • Talleyah

      Exactly… And the reason that you mostly see women promoting products is that casting and film people , just in the business as a whole , it is a well known fact that women, on an almost subconscious level, are seen as more trustworthy. They want someone to come off as trustworthy in a short period of time. What better way to efficiently accomplish that than by using basic human nature. The consumer is more likely to trust that a product will work when a female is advertising it. The super bubbly ness is as Angela said, basically grabbing you , the consumer’s, attention in the shortest amount of time. It’s a consumer psychology thing .