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TV’s Billionaire Club: Progressive’s Flo, AT&T’s Lily and The Trivago Guy

They are familiar faces, but you’ve never met them. They aren’t movie stars, nor are they in your social graph. Yet you’re seeing their faces more than Facebook would allow you to see your friends. You see them every single day, multiple times a day — and you have for years.

I’m talking about TV stars — the other TV stars. The ones that pitch stuff to you. The ones who, no matter where you channel-surf, seem to always find their way into your living room.  

In an age in which stars are measured by box office returns, ratings points, YouTube views, Twitter followers, Facebook subscribers and any number of measures, these are the stealth celebrities who are way more ubiquitous than anyone truly realizes. Call them TV’s Billionaire’s Club: the brand pitch-people who have racked up TV ad impressions totaling 1,000,000,000 or more.

In the world of online videos, where a view count of a million qualifies as a viral hit, think about this: Any national TV ad can appear on millions of TV screens, simultaneously, during a highly-rated show. Multiply that exposure by at least several airings per day, 365 days a year, and the TV exposure for a brand’s long-running pitchman or pitchwoman can dwarf even the most viral online-only campaign.

To do a quick tally of the numbers behind some of the most-exposed pitch people on American over a seven-month period, we focused on three brands — AT&T, Progressive and Trivago — that are known for campaigns with overly familiar faces. The data below is from iSpot.tv, the attention analytics company that measures audience reach, viewer attention and actions from a panel of 10 million smart TVs. Here is a breakdown of the new American icons of TV advertising.

AT&T: Lily

Milana Vayntrub, better known as Lily from AT&T, appeared in 10 new ads last year. Thanks to the estimated $248.6 the wireless carrier spent using her as a pitch person, the 29-year-old Uzbekistan native appeared on American TV screens 7.3 billion times in seven months.

Ads featuring Milana have run 29,895 times, including “Stream It All,” which ran for only five weeks but racked up 1.6 billion TV ad impressions just by itself.

Does she work for AT&T? According to the average view rate for AT&T’s “Lily” ads (AVR is the percentage an ad is viewed, on average, across all views of that ad), Lily/Milana grades well. Her average completion rate* of 74.67% outperformed the AT&T brand average of 73.8%. That’s probably why AT&T dedicated an estimated 44.6% of its yearly spend on ads starring her likable character — she performs.

Progressive’s Flo

Now consider the inescapable Stephanie Courtney — Flo from Progressive Insurance. Ads featuring the 47-year-old Rockland County, N.Y. native graced TV screens a whopping 13.47 billion times over our seven-month timeframe.

Progressive used Flo/Stephanie across 28 unique ads and 116,627 airings, and viewers don’t seem sick of her. “Flo” ads had an average completion rate* of 82.75%.

Progressive’s reliance on her was even higher than AT&T’s on Lily/Milana; the Flo character appeared in enough commercials to represent 60% of the brand’s annual ad spend.

The Trivago Guy

Last year, the so-called Trivago Guy racked up 13.4 billion TV ad impressions in U.S. households. A caveat: There are actually two Trivago Guys — one who speaks English and one who speaks Spanish. The Spanish-speaking version accounts for a mere seven hundred fifty million TV ad impressions, while the English-speaking Trivago Guy accounts for more than 12.6 billion.

The more heavily exposed Trivago Guy is portrayed by Tim Williams, a 50-year-old Houston native who now lives in Germany (which is where Trivago is based).

Are we sick of The Trivago Guy yet? That depends on the ad he’s in. “Hotel Blind” kept viewers’ attention with a remarkably high 95.6% view rate — but it had fewer than 5,000 airings across 58 networks since from its debut on Jan. 26, 2016. Compare that to “Ideal Hotel for Less,” which doesn’t even break the 70% mark despite three times the amount of airings, and its first appearance happening all the way back in November 2014.

Without turning a deaf ear to declining ratings, shifting audiences, multi-platform viewing and mobile addictions, TV continues to command serious attention. And when compared to the social seconds served up on Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube, brands are getting longer times and more people per ad available — by a long shot.

While it may be less focused attention — it’s still better storytelling. And when you have everyday pleasantry like Lily, Flo and even the Trivago dude serve up, they’re part of the fabric of American culture in a way no overlay, post roll or mid-roll might ever be.
*iSpot.tv defines ‘completion’ as ads that have been viewed through the third quartile. The completion rate is the percentage of times the ad was viewed more than 75% of the way through.