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More than Just Lily From AT&T: Meet The Woman Blowing Up the Internet

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By: Mia Williams | Last updated: Sep 30, 2022

Most people, when they get to a commercial break, tend to switch between channels to see what’s running on other media. However, when it’s the new AT&T commercial, your attention is bound to be drawn. Especially any of the famous sequels starring Lily Adams, the delightful store manager who manages to make phone plans amusing and engaging. 

You stay to see the rest of the commercial, then begin pondering about the actress behind the Lily character. Milana Vayntrub is her name, and she’s a woman of depth. She has quite the personal life. You’d be surprised to learn exactly what Milana is up to when the cameras are off.

The Woman Behind Lily?

Vayntrub’s true persona is similar to that of her famous on-screen counterpart in several respects. Lily, the store manager, is lovable, and she has a lot more depth in comparison to other advertising characters. We’ve gotten to know Lily very well during the time she’s been featured in AT&T ads.

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However, like anyone, Vayntrub has aspects to her personal life as a whole that may surprise a vast majority of viewers.

Crafting the Character of Lily

It’s something you’d never guess, though, because Vayntrub is responsible for much of Lily’s appeal. With an expectant humor and allure, the actress portrays her as sweet and approachable. She even looks at home in the brilliantly painted storefronts, which serve as her backdrops.

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Lily is often more youthful than the clients she assists in the advertisements. This represents the advertisements’ focus audience – which may account for some of her success.

Which Ad Is The Most Famous?

In one of the most famous commercials, entitled, “Need The Receipts?” Lily speaks in hushed tones in a bid not to disturb a sleeping infant. In another, she hysterically fails to remember Grant Hill, an ex-basketballer. Both ads are hilariously executed.

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More uncertainty occurs when Lily offers a daily discount to a famous star she has never met – and he believes he is being treated royally. In this scenario, the special guest is Van Der Beek from the TV series Dawson’s Creek. Both of them went on to do fantastic work in this film!

Can You Imagine An AT&T Ad Without Lily?

Many people find it difficult to imagine the ads being as popular if it weren’t for Vayntrub at the helm. Vayntrub’s interactions with usually difficult to handle company executives are bound to crack you up. When these customers try to be tough, Lily responds by offering them irresistible deals. 

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The joke is that Lily treats everybody professionally while remaining friendly and accessible! So, who is the real person carrying the Lily character? What’s her personality like in the actual real world?

What's The History Behind Her Name?

First and foremost, she has an extraordinary name. Her full name is Milana Aleksandrovna Vayntrub. And she was born in the former Socialist Republic, which is now known as the Republic of Uzbekistan. 

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The Soviet Republic experiences mild weather and not much rain, according to reports. However, the country’s essence has a darker dimension, which Vayntrub has also seen firsthand.

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What Brought Her Family To The US?

Since Vayntrub is of Jewish heritage, her and her family have faced a lot of sacrilegious attacks in Uzbekistan. As a result, they agreed to seek refuge in the United States due to their country’s political stance. 

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Image: Milana Vayntrub / Instagram

The process, however, wasn’t quick, and they were held up for a while in two different European countries at various points during the process. The family finally made it to the United States, and Vayntrub, then two years old, grew up there.

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...And The Flourishing Career Began!

Surprisingly, the former asylum-seeker went on to have a flourishing acting career. Vayntrub initially emerged in an advertisement at the age of five-years-old, which ironically happened to be for a telecommunications company.

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Image: YouTube/U.S. Department of State

She also did not have to wait for a lengthy period to capture a television program spot. She appeared as an ill patient named Tatiana in the popular hospital series, E.R., with the then very eligible bachelor George Clooney and the likes of Julianna Margulies. Clooney’s appearance appealed to the youngster so much that she repeatedly invited him over to her home. How cute!

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Looks Can Be Quite Deceiving

Vayntrub then went on to work on the children’s program Lizzie McGuire, where she honed her skills. She did, after all, play the role of a young girl who incessantly burped when she thought that no one was watching.

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However, Vayntrub, who was at the Middle school level at the time, did not take her role lightly. She practiced her burping to perfection! As it turned out, her portrayal of “Sweet Burper” was expertly depicted. Everything appears to have been without controversy so far, right? Well, read on!

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Would She Abandon Her Career?

Even though Vayntrub seemed to be having a lucrative start to life as an actress, you’d be surprised to know she was on the verge of abandoning acting as a profession. She recalls feeling the desire to concentrate on something more practical. 

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Image: Milana Vayntrub / Instagram

She made that revelation in an interview with a magazine back in 2015. She added that acting most likely would fail and that she had high expectations but didn’t think they’d be sufficient to gain success in the film world.

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Time For A Career Change!

As a result, Vayntrub spent her adolescent years concentrating on her education. She also did a decent job: she excelled in her proficiency tests earlier than the norm and pursued a university education instead. 

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Vayntrub went on to be a California University graduate and proudly accepted her degree in communication obtained at the San Diego campus. Although Vayntrub’s behind-the-scenes actions could probably have jeopardized them, it virtually appears as though she was meant for those AT&T commercials.

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Transitioning To The Improv World

As a result, Vayntrub did not relinquish her life as an actress but rather did it differently than she initially began. As opposed to TV, she instead focused on honing her improv abilities. 

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To accomplish this, she joined a Brigade called Upright Citizens for preparation. This is the prominent comedy organization that launched Amy Poehler’s career, featured in Parks and Recreation, and many more improv trainees, to celebrity status.

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Making of an Improv Queen?

Like many before her, Vayntrub took her improv technique to YouTube, where she ended up becoming a YouTube sensation as the host of “Live Prude Girls.” 

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Thousands of viewers gravitated toward her videos, which are still available to watch even though she no longer makes them. So go ahead and look them out. We’re sure they’ll be an entertaining use of your time.

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Two Ladies Taunting The Celebrities

If you think that we’re exaggerating, we should probably point you to an episode of the program called “Let’s Talk About Something More” in Vayntrub’s Youtube series. That particular episode involved her and a second young lady, sitting beside their guest as they politely taunted them.

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Vayntrub said that messing with guests who included Matt Damon of the Bourne Series fame, among others, was the essence of the program. This particular special guest was Matt Damon. Other special guests included B.J. Novak who played Ryan from The Office and various famous YouTubers.

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Do These Roles Ring A Bell?

The new career path then brought Vayntrub into the worlds of television and film. She landed a lot of pieces, many of which were minor. She portrayed a lady in a subway who met face to face with rats in the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters

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Image: IMDb

She was also a vampire in the TV show Key and Peele. Can you recall at least one of those characters? Sorry, but we don’t either.

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The Nice Roles Started Popping Up

Now, let’s talk about Vayntrub’s roles in Love on Netflix. This was a production by Judd Apatow in which she portrayed the protagonist’s evil ex. This was a more significant role. 

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She also made an appearance as Tara in a few episodes of Silicon Valley. It’s following this role that Vayntrub will go on to have a more significant presence in one of the decade’s most highly-watched television drama series. Are you able to figure out which one?

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Getting Cast In The Biggest Drama

Oh Yes! In the 2016-17 TV season, This Is Us, which had just rocked the television scene, was the highest-rated new program. In the Pearson family tale, Vayntrub was cast as a woman named Sloane Sandburg. 

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She was a playwright and a love interest for a significant role character. The actress has since completed eight appearances in the show, but considering how This Is Us jumps around in time, she might still return for more int he future.

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The Unrealized Comedy Series

Other Space, a science fiction comedy that aired on Yahoo! Screen, marked one more top-notch project for the actress. Vayntrub plays an incompetent starship sailor in the film. 

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Image: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Yahoo

Unfortunately, financial difficulties led to the extinction of Yahoo! Screen and the broadcast. Although its founder, Paul Feig, is eager to get additional episodes produced, it has yet to resume production.

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Was That Squirrel Really Her?

Have you thought of another place where you might have spotted Milana Vayntrub? Vayntrub’s name was linked to a role that several actresses were interested in during 2017. 

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On Marvel: New Warriors, she would play Doreen Green, more affectionately known as Squirrel Girl to Marvel enthusiasts. Although the anticipated show did not emerge from the production phase, Vayntrub wasn’t completely forgotten.

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And She's Back, Just Like That!

This is because the venture re-emerged under another name. Vayntrub provided the voice of Squirrel Girl in Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors

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It also marked the start of a new chain that incorporates brief films, specials, and a television film. With comic book twists and YouTube appearances, the portrayal of Squirrel Girl appears to be gaining traction.

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The First TV Series Appearance

Moving forward, Vayntrub made her first public entrance in the television series Threads. The series takes place in the online chat room realm. 

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The actor also appeared in That Moment When, a film in which audiences were given the opportunity to make decisions for Vayntrub’s character, Jill. Throughout the film experience, viewers picked how Jill should react to her tough life situations which created hilarious results.

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Can't Say Goodbye To Anime

Vayntrub has also returned back to animation by agreeing to voice act in Dallas & Robo. Kat Dennings and John Cena headlined in this adult-targeted story about space truckers. It was available for premium viewing on YouTube. 

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The quirky show also received at least one positive analysis, with one critic claiming it to be “must-see television.” Now that’s high praise.

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Nothing Beats AT&T's Lily

Despite a varied and fascinating career thus far, Vayntrub is perhaps best known for her role as the beloved Lily in the AT&T commercials. 

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After all, they’ve been portraying her in a favorable light on TV since Christmas of 2013. And that’s a great thing, given Vayntrub was only meant to appear in one advertisement.

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How It All Came To Be

Of course, Valerie Vargas, AT&T advertising vice president, clarified why the initial proposal was changed back in 2016 during a magazine interview. 

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She emphasized that the initial commercial placement was so profitable for the company that they decided to do another, and it continued along that path for a few years. Vargas says the reception from the target-audience was so great that they had no choice but to use her on a recurrent basis.

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What Keeps Drawing The Viewers

Milana’s Lily sits well with viewers because she performs her as a multi-faceted character in a way that’s extraordinary for commercials, claims Hank Perlman. He is a Director for the Hungry Man agency that did the shoot for a large number of the commercials.

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He adds that they work diligently to portray her not just as a witty person but also to make her powerful, intelligent, and humane character. And ideally, as a 30-second ad slot character, she needs to be as relatable as possible.

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The Parody That Went All Wrong

The ad series was so captivating that Amy Schumer, a notable actress and comedian, felt it was worth parodying. Vayntrub, on the other hand, was not impressed with Schumer’s sketch. 

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“Ultimately, I have a real feminist issue with it,” Vayntrub told Ad Week. “The way that you’re going to portray this character is that you’re going to play her dumb? Well, that’s lazy.” It didn’t stop there, though.

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Lily Is No Eye Candy!

Since Vayntrub believed Schumer just saw her as a piece of window dressing, she started in an interview that she thought the character was presented as a reinforcement that was only there to lure men. 

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She emphasized that they work very hard to establish Lily’s character as strong, clever, amusing, and self-sufficient because they believe that too many brands portray females as props to get their merchandise sold.

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Setting The Record Straight!

According to Vayntrub, her character is an efficient store manager, handling her role well, and she’s proud of the way Lily has been depicted. She adds that in the event anyone actually views Lily as simply a prop utilized to attract males, then she believes they should reconsider how they watch women on television. 

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She notes that society can’t suggest the need for more positions for women and then claim that they’re just playing the roles to be eye candy for men.

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The Drive For Advocacy Intensifies

Vayntrub’s biggest passion: advocacy, reflects her ability to talk about what’s on her mind openly. Refugees are a cause dear to her heart, and she founded the “Can’t Do Nothing” campaign to support those who are less fortunate.

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Her movement has gotten a lot of attention, with nearly a quarter-million individuals taking part in the successful operation.

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Zoning In On The Appalling Refugee Situation

Vayntrub launched the campaign at the beginning of 2016 with the documentary Milana Can’t Do Nothing. The film utilized Vayntrub’s own story as a prism through which to examine the issues that refugees face. 

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Image: YouTube/CantDoNothing

And one of the main themes of the short film was the appalling conditions that refugees face on their voyage to Greece from Syria.

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The Big Collaboration For Education

Surprisingly, Vayntrub’s not-for-profit group seems to be achieving results by collaborating with other organizations. One of the groups that Can’t Do Nothing collaborates with is named The Syria Fund, which has partnered with them to construct classrooms, recruit educators, develop music and art projects, and a scope of other programs, as Vayntrub explained in an interview. 

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Vayntrub’s goal was to film as much of the venture as she could in order to have some transparency so people could see exactly where their contributions were going.

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Getting Millennials To See The Bigger Picture

Following that, Vayntrub added why she thought her campaign was necessary. She goes on to mention that people, particularly her generation, are truly coming around to accepting their global obligation. She thinks the internet plays a big part in that. 

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Vayntrub also believes that there is so much turmoil worldwide, making it difficult to ignore. Additionally, great comedians transform these global events into something that is both digestible yet enraging. Vayntrub wanted to play her role too.

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Do Entertainment And Advocacy Correlate?

The talented actress says that yes, she thinks entertainment and advocacy go very much hand in hand, the actress added. However, she doesn’t believe an entertainer has to also be on the campaign route for change. 

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Image: YouTube/CantDoNothing

She doesn’t consider herself an activist in the least but is rather concerned for the sake of those undergoing a difficult time.

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Will Advocacy Affect Her Advertising Role?

While Vayntrub may have been concerned that her outwardness will jeopardize her future, AT&T is on her side. Milana’s enthusiasm for her cause is simply remarkable, Vargas said. 

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And the actress definitely doesn’t let anyone’s concerns stop her from openly expressing her views about topical issues on various social media platforms.

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Is Her Desire Too Big To Attain?

According to Vayntrub, she felt it necessary to help in whatever way she could. She believes It’s arrogant of her to think she can change anyone’s thought pattern but says she can accomplish anything. 

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How is she supposed to keep quiet in front of more than a hundred thousand people about an issue that’s bothering her today? Vayntrub says it’s not in her system to do that.

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Maybe It's Time To Slow Down

Vayntrub has no intention of slowing down. “Maybe this will be the downfall of my career if people stop following me and studios don’t want to be involved with someone this controversial – not that I am controversial in any way.”

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She continues by saying, “I don’t know what is the right move or the more advisable career move, but life is long and complicated, and you’ve got to do what you feel is right.” What a lovely and powerful sentiment!

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Time To Broaden The Horizon 

Vayntrub’s career does not seem to have been hampered by her activism. Back in 2016, she did, in reality, broaden her horizons. That’s why she took a turn behind the scenes as the director of an advertising shoot. 

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Her Cracker Barrel commercial was amusing, showcasing the restaurant’s macaroni and cheese dish.

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How To Handle Multiple Hats

When Vayntrub was questioned about how she managed to articulate herself in so many different ways, she had an explanation. She said they’re all very different parts of her brain. 

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And aptitude, particularly in improv, entails shutting off a part of the brain to remove any self-focus and enable things to come in and through the person, she emphasized.

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When Self-doubt Crept In!

Vayntrub clarified that she didn’t think she’d be able to find a job that didn’t need her to do any improv because that was her most powerful ability.

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She felt that if a position didn’t require her to make it up as she went along, others would stand out and get the part because they would be better at acting rather than improv.

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Coming Soon To A Screen Near You!

Despite this, the adaptable actress is something more than a face in a commercial. She performed a stand-up routine at a comedy festival in the Big Apple just before Covid hit, showcasing her comedic abilities. 

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And the well sought-after, former asylum-seeker is guaranteed to appear on television in a variety of other positions in the near future. We can’t wait to see Milana Vayntrub in more projects! 

We think it’s safe to say you’ll know this other leading-lady from her work in commercials as well…

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Another Leading Lady

You might not know standup comedian and actress Stephanie Courtney by her name alone, but we’re sure you definitely know her by her TV persona, Flo, from the Progressive Insurance commercials!

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Courtney has been playing Flo for eight years and has gained a certain notoriety for doing so. From her signature hairstyle and make-up down to her staple all white outfit and apron, Flo has ben coming in our homes in the form of Progressive commercial since 2007.

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Where It All Began

In 2007 Progressive Insurance’s brand recognition was somewhere between being mistaken for soup, or nothing at all. The company needed an identity and, Progressive’s ad agency Arnold Worldwide, came up with the concept of the superstore.

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In the campaign’s first-ever ad, aired on January 14, 2008, a customer says, “Wow,” impressed with all the extras that come with his savings.  A cashier who we’ve all come to know and love, named Flo, echoes his enthusiasm and says, “Wow! I say it louder…” And so, Flo the Progressive saleswoman was born.

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A Happy "Accident"

In a time where iconic brand mascots seem to be a thing of the past, the life-spans of this type of character are short to nonexistent. Flo is in a bracket all on her own. In the decade plus since her debut, Progressive’s business has more than doubled!

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Progressive CMO Jeff Charney has been quoted saying “That character (Flo) was completely unplanned, but we saw it and we jumped on it. She became the center of this ad sitcom. It took us a couple of spots, but we started to move the focus on her.”

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A Never Ending Shift

For the first two years of Flo’s Progressive career the campaigns took place exclusively inside Progressive’s fictional “superstore” during Flo’s what seemed to be never-ending shift. Believe it or not, it was a very strategic move to take Flo from superstore only, to real life living.

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For the longest time, the bones of the commercial were for a customer to come in, Flo to tell them a joke, the customer would leave and the commercial would end.  It would’ve been easier and much more cost effective to keep Flo in the store, but it was decided but Progressive’s creative team that the commercial’s needed to take the next step and Flo needed to step out in the real world.

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“Best Day”

Flo’s very calculated first venture out of the superstore was in a dream sequence of a customer and avid outdoorsman called “Best Day.”

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The publics reaction to the commercial convinced the creative team they were on the right track. Since, Flo has been in over 100 commercials for Progressive.

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Present Day Flo

In terms of Flo’s longevity, the key has been Progressive’s constant attention to detail when it comes to balancing Flo with a collection of strong side characters. Strong enough to stand on their own, but not too strong that they overload the brand’s star.

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Flo’s core group of Progressive employee’s over the years has morphed itself into something that works and is widely accepted by viewers. With a crew like Flo, Jamie, Mara, Alan, Rodney, and Lucy what isn’t there to love?!

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Behind The Apron

Born and raised in upstate, New York Stephanie Courtney is a stand-up comedian. Who from a very young age said she always knew she wanted to be an actress.

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Courtney is a former member of the The Groundlings. The Groundlings is an improvisational and sketch comedy theater group based out of Los Angelas, California.

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No Stranger To The Camera

Courtney is definitely no stranger to the spotlight! Courtney is known for her recurring roles on several television series, including the voices of Renee the Receptionist and Joy Peters on Cartoon Network’s (Adult Swim) comedy, Tom Goes The Mayor, and Marge- a switchboard operator on AMC’s drama, Mad Men.

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Courtney also scored a reoccurring role as Essie Karp on the ABC sitcome, The Goldbergs. While Essie isn’t a “huge” character on the show, Courtney has appeared in 17 episodes and is often recognized as “Flo from Progressive”.

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The Big Screen

Not only has Courtney scored some reoccurring roles on popular sitcoms, she has also been on the big screen as well!

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Courtney has snagged herself a role in the films, The Brothers Solomon, Blades of Glory, The Heartbreak Kid, Melvin Goes To Dinner and Fred: The Move.

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What's Next?

With a successful run this long we think it’s safe to say Flo is here to stay. But with that being said do we think there is enough to keep a story line going for her and her “co-workers”, say, the next ten years?

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Yes. We absolutely do! Just when you think Progressive can’t do it again they throw an insurance love story into the mix. Featuring a very love-sick, Jon Hamm fighting to get the attention of you’ve guessed it Progressive’s one and only, Flo! We can’t wait to see what Flo will get herself into next…

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State Farm's Leading Man

For years, State Farm has reached TV viewers with its star-filled commercials. From Chris Paul, Patrick Mahomes, Drake, Aaron Rodgers, to Alfonso Ribeiro, these celebs have all lent their faces to the insurance company’s kitschy advertisements.

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Behind the celeb cameos there is another very popular character- Jake from State Farm.

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“Uh, Khakis”

In his now-famous 2011 debut, Jake from State Farm helps a married man with filing a claim over the phone at a very late hour. The man’s wife comes down the stairs believing she’s caught her husband cheating,  she grabs the phone and demands to know what Jake is wearing.

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Jake visibly confused replies “Uh, khakis,” and the commercial became an instant classic. However, if you’ve seen the original Jake from State Farm ad, you will notice the man who first starred as Jake is no longer the man the company currently features.

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The Original Jake

Believe it or not the original man cast as Jake from State Farm is Jake Stone, an actual State Farm insurance agent! Jake initially worked for State Farm out of Bloomington, Illinois. In March of 2011, Jake’s roommate- also a fellow State Farm employee, mentioned a casting call for the company’s upcoming commericals.

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Stone decided to give it a shot and ended up going to the casting call. The next thing he knew, the 26-year-old was off to California to shoot an ad for his employer.

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Jake, Are You Ok?

Stone’s newfound popularity from the State Farm commercial came with the price tag of some unsavory gossip. In October of 2015, there was a false report that Jake from State Farm was murdered and the culprit was his wife.

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What was the cause? Apparently his wife murdered him over some serious cheating allegations. Stone ended up taking to Twitter to debunk the fall allegations. “Contrary to recent reports, I am alive. Thank you all for your concern.” After that Stone decided to take a step back from the State Farm commercials.

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The New Jake

In 2020, State Farm decided to revived the ever popular Jake from State Farm charter. With this revival the role of Jake was re-cast by professional actor Kevin Miles.

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Jake 2.0.’s  first commercial for the company debuted in early 2020 in a Super Bowl pregame spot. Even as the new version of Jake, Miles from time to time will still makes a reference to the khakis.

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When World's Collide

Although the world was being introduced to a new Jake from State Farm the insurance company wanted to connect the two world of “original Jake from State Farm” to “Jake from State Farm 2.0”

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If you look closely at the 2020 Super Bowl pregame commercial you may recognize a familiar face. No your eyes are not deceiving you, that’s the “original Jake from State Farm”.

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The Story Behind The New Jake

Some tv viewers have raised the question of why the original Jake was re-cast for the new campaign. Patty Morris, State Farm’s assistant Vice President of marketing and brand, explains that an actual company employee would not have been a right fit for the job.

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There have been theories that Miles was hired as the new Jake to placate and captivate a younger audience, but that is sheer speculation.

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