The Most Interesting Brand in the World

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"He once went to a psychic — to warn her."
"His blood smells like cologne."
"If he punched you in the face, you would have to fight off the urge to thank him."
"Even watching him sleep has been described as breathtaking."
"His legend precedes him, the way lightning precedes thunder."

The above snippets of whimsy are all ad copy, as anyone familiar with Dos Equis' current, hugely successful campaign, The Most Interesting Man in the World, well knows.

The upscale beer's mascot, a gray-bearded, ultra-cosmopolitan man of mystery (portrayed by actor Jonathan Goldsmith) whose magnificence has awakened the inner fabulists in a fleet of copywriters, is a far cry from the usual TV dude hawking suds. In fact, his recurring catchphrase (uttered in floridly Latin-accented English) is, "I don't always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends."

The cinematic spots that tell, or rather allude to, TMIMITW's story depict, in Bondian snippets, a globe-trotting adventurer, a spy, a scholar, an animal lover (he frees a grizzly from a trap), a husky-voiced Lothario with a philosophical bent. When he addresses the camera, in formal wear with shirt-collar unbuttoned, he's surrounded by a de rigueur bevy of gorgeous women — but his cool gravitas stands in stark relief to the keg-party mayhem, talking critters and desperate-to-please sports tie-ins typically thought essential for coaxing young males to buy six-packs. Themed ads with titles like "On Wingmen" find the silver-maned gentleman dispensing such wisdom as: "It only takes one person to talk to a woman."

The agency behind all this comparatively soulful mirth is Euro RSCG Worldwide, an industry heavyweight with a passel of major clients. Judged by any conventional yardstick, the firm's campaign has been madly successful: UTalkMarketing.com reports that sales of Dos Equis climbed by 17% in a period of 2009 during which imported beer dropped by 11% overall. The commercials, meanwhile, earned a Titanium Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, recognizing "the world's top integrated advertising campaign." "According to beer marketing experts," notes UTalkMarketing, "never has advertising played such an important role in building an import brand."

Yet RSCG's creative team stands out from the pack not merely for inventing an effective, catchy campaign but also for harboring a revolutionary ethos. It has taken the occasion of the global recession to reject the idea of "hyperconsumption" in favor of "mindful consumption," which is to say advertising geared not to the accumulation of stuff (or the stuffing of pie holes) but to the pursuit of experience. They invented TMIM, in other words, as a playful appeal to people who want to lead more interesting lives.

He is the brand outside of itself, an emblem of life richly lived that swims at leisure in the consumer world but isn't confined there.

This stroke of branding genius (also manifested in radio ads, interactive Web features and social media) has virtually nothing to do with Dos Equis, which is just a Mexican lager, albeit a tasty one. If RSCG's client were a competing cerveza like San Miguel — or, for that matter, Audi or Aqua-Velva or the Susquehanna Collar Stay Company — the campaign might have been equally effective. Indeed, TMIM explicitly reveals, "I don't always drink beer," and even then implies that he sometimes drinks other beer (though he "prefers" Dos Equis), and we are left to conclude that his savoir faire would be undiminished were his options limited to, say, the local Thai brew. (Opines EatMeDaily.com: "We'd bet money that he's a scotch man.")

He is the brand outside of itself, an emblem of life richly lived that swims at leisure in the consumer world but isn't confined there. In the words of Slate scribe Seth Stevenson, "He's more like a celebrity endorser. One who happens to be fictional. He doesn't shill with brio for the simple reason that it would undercut his claim to awesomeness. The most interesting man in the world, by definition, would not be found enthusiastically endorsing a mass-market consumer product."

These ads, then, offer something even to those who hate beer: That being interesting — accumulating life experience because, as TMIM himself points out, "It's never too early to start beefing up your obituary" — is more important than being pretty, thin, young or hip. TMIM wears his age like a badge. His currency is a stock of stories; his appeal comes from the places he's been and the things he understands. He rejects fads and novelty. The tagline "Stay thirsty, my friends" implicitly extends far beyond beer-drinking, extolling an unquenchable thirst for life. What's more, the tall tales and beguiling anecdotes that make up TMIM's wooly mythos leave plenty of space for viewers to append their own imaginative touches — as the fan offerings on the Dos Equis Facebook wall amply demonstrate.

Yet, however inventive the campaign, the skeptic might object: "This is still just advertising, content intended to sell a product." That is undeniably true, and there's always the risk of overstating the cultural importance of such commercial ephemera. But the way things are sold says a lot about an era, and there's reason to believe RSCG is ahead of a long curve.

The new ad paradigm pursued by RSCG is articulated on the company blog The New Consumer. In one article, Ann O'Reilly, Content Director of Euro RSCG Worldwide Knowledge Exchange, ventures:

Our communal vision of what it means to be "rich" is changing. Where once personal wealth might have been measured solely by the figures in one's investment portfolio and the cumulative value of one's assets, today people have begun to look deeper, taking into consideration softer values, such as happiness and contentment, friendship and belonging.

If O'Reilly's assessment is accurate, branding must adapt — at least in the wake of the Great Recession — to the potential demise of hyperconsumerism.

How might TMIMITW reply to all this? Perhaps he'd note that he once owned a television but was compelled to defenestrate it. Then again, he might muse that the only truthful advertising is the night sky in Tuscany. Or maybe he'd just puff thoughtfully on his Cohiba and say, "Next question."

Got your own TMIM-isms? Can you further burnish this already luminous legend? This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it — to us, yours are the most interesting ideas in the world.