Subtlety is so yesteryear.

“Be disruptive,” Jeff Charney told the participants in his break-out session at Content Marketing World 2014. The chief marketing officer for Progressive wasn’t making a joke.

In a world where most of us are exposed to 5,000 marketing messages a day, you’ve got to break through that ad-blindness fog with an element of surprise.

Breaking through and standing out are harder than ever, but those are the goals, he said. Mad Men’s “Don Draper wouldn’t do well in today’s market,” he added.

Out Create!

Out-spending is out, Charney said. It’s out-creating that’s the sure-fire way to come out ahead.

Jeff Charney believes, simply that you can succeed with a $5,000,000 marketing budget, or $500 one.

Score for Oreo!

To stand out, you have to stay ahead of the game. Charney cited the example of Oreo’s impromptu Super Bowl advertising: During a 34-minute blackout, Oreo tweeted: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” The tweet got more than 10,000 shares.

Suspenseful Blending

Another great, low-budget advertising example is that of Blendtec founder Tom Dickson, who put out a series of “Will it blend?” videos, which drew a crowd. Whether people loved the guy, or loved to hate him, he was disruptive. People stopped and stared. He got their attention without costly special effects or famous actors.

Best in Show: IKEA

Perhaps one of Charney’s favorites in recent history is IKEA’s “BookBook” video, a spoof on Apple commercials that revels in the power and beauty of a good old-fashioned print catalog. According to Visible Measures, the video went viral, garnering more than 7.7 million views in a few days’ time. Brilliant!

Progressive Strategies

Charney’s own company, Progressive, has taken storytelling to the max by introducing an actual character, Flo, who has taken progressive’s number of Facebook fans from 500,000 to 5.4 million in four years.

Jeff Charney, courtesy Content Management World.

For their Superbowl 2 cents, Flo tweeted “What do car insurance and football have in common? Nothing. Talk to you after the game!” That simple, transparent message was praised by Mashable, Adweek and the Wall Street Journal, among others. Why? It took people by surprise. It wasn’t the expected strategy. It made Flo real, once again.

“Storytelling works,” Charney reiterated. “It will stand out over time.” Gone are the days when everything was pre-written or done by the book. Improv, he believes, has incredible value. “Let them be themselves,” he stressed. “Let them write like people talk.”

Be Ready!

“More has changed in the last five years than in the last 100 years combined,” Charney shared with his audience. “More will change in the next 12 months than in the past five years.”

He asked attendees how they would respond, and administered a 10-question Individual Content Quotient quiz to test them. (Anyone who got all the answers right would be hired by Progressive he said, but no such luck.)

Follow Jeff Charney

Before joining Progressive, Charney was chief marketing officer at QVC and (formerly He has been named AdWeek Brand Genius: Marketer of the Year and in Fast Company’s top 100 Most Creative People. Follow him @jeffcharney.