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Progressive in Trouble, Act 3: Godin Lays the Smack Down

We know you all spent the weekend wondering where marketing guru Seth Godin stands on the ongoing Progressive Insurance scandal, right? Look no further!

Despite the claims of semi-autonomous entity Mitt Romney*, Godin does not believe that corporations are people, and he uses the Progressive incident as the starting point for an extended riff on why that issue is significant. The rant is a bit wordy for the famously short-winded Godin; seems like this case really got under his skin like it did for so many other Americans.

He starts with the newer, longer response that Progressive posted on their blog on August 16th. Was this post a little more substantial than the first? Yes. Did Progressive still use evasive language to avoid addressing the fact that their lawyer sat with the defendant in order to help convince the jury that their own customer was at least partially to blame for the crash that took her life? Oh yeah. The Progressive post is painful to read, especially this sentence: 

“In those circumstances, under Maryland law, the insurance company providing the Underinsured Motorist coverage is considered a defendant.”

In other words, we were not considered the defendant in the eyes of the Maryland legal system despite the fact that we paid our in-house lawyer to serve as the defendant’s co-counsel. Yeah, sorry guys–you still sound awful.

So what advice does Godin have for Progressive? Stop behaving like the self-interested multinational conglomerate that you are and make a point of viewing things from a human perspective–if, that is, you want to find some way out of the elaborate PR maze that you’ve crafted for yourself.

Godin gives the people of Progressive two options moving forward: Either confirm that this case proceeded according to Standard Operating Procedures and refuse to apologize for something that almost all big businesses do in some way or another, or admit that this was a dick move and tell everyone how sorry you are–making sure, of course, that you deliver the message in an earnest way via an actual human with eyes and a functioning mouth rather than a nameless blog post or a series of automated tweets. To simplify: Remember–no matter how hard it may be–that at the end of the day your business is a group of honest-to-goodness people who sleep, eat, breathe and feel pain just like the rest of us.

This is sound advice, but based on Progressive’s record of hunkering down and hiding behind awkward legalese, we don’t think they’ll take either road. It’s sad, really.

*For the record, we understand that Romney almost certainly meant to emphasize the fact that corporations “consist of people” rather than implying that they should be treated as the equivalent of individual persons in the eyes of the law. And we don’t dispute the fact that his political opponents have massaged the meaning of the phrase to better suit their own contrary goals. But that doesn’t make the quote any less dumb or symptomatic of the times in which we live.

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