The quirky genius of the Dos Equis ad campaign.

Advertising deconstructed.
May 25 2009 6:46 AM

The Most Interesting Man in the World

The star of Dos Equis' new ad campaign is too cool to shill beer.

Dos Equis Ad.

The Spot: We see a gray-bearded man engaged in a series of adventurous pursuits: jai alai, close-combat sparring, piloting a motorboat full of beauty-pageant winners. "His reputation is expanding faster than the universe," says the voice-over. "He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously through himself. He is the most interesting man in the world." We next see the bearded man seated at a lounge banquette, surrounded by attractive women. "I don't always drink beer," he says, "but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends." (Click here to see the ad.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

This Dos Equis campaign features wonderful visual details. The production team clearly took glee in meshing vintage film stocks with unexpected locations and absurd endeavors. My favorite moment is the sight of our tuxedoed hero leading a moonlight expedition through a rocky canyon—flanked by elegant women in evening gowns, a military officer in full dress regalia, and a slightly befuddled fellow wearing a fez. We're left to guess at the precise combination of events that led to this scenario. I like to imagine it's an impromptu escape from a hijacked ocean liner.

The "most interesting man" campaign has been in regional American markets for a while now but only made its national television debut this spring. Other spots follow the same general outline. Grainy footage of outrageous exploits (bench-pressing Asian women, splashing down in a space capsule, performing trick billiards shots for turbaned companions) is accompanied by a sequence of boastful one-liners: "The police often question him just because they find him interesting," "His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man's entire body," "His blood smells like cologne."

Why make a senior citizen the star of your campaign, when the target market for almost all beer ads is guys in their 20s and early 30s? I think in large part it's an effort to stand out from the crowd. So many ads for beer and spirits play on a young guy's desperate quest to hook up with the hot chicks at the bar (as in the dopey new spots for Captain Morgan rum). The Dos Equis ads—much like the Crown Royal spots I reviewed earlier this year—opt instead for an appeal to dudes' self-conception, placing the focus on older gents who serve as models of masculinity. 

In place of cheesecake and frat humor, the campaign substitutes charming eccentricity. A recent essay made the claim that Wes Anderson is the "most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation." I'd argue that Anderson's influence extends to the realm of television commercials. Consider the Cars.com spot that aired during this year's Super Bowl. It clearly takes its aesthetic cues from the virtuosic prologue to Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. Both the Cars.com spot and these Dos Equis ads ape the prologue's deadpan, third-person narration. And both feature Andersonian protagonists of infinite skill and superlative quirk.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the most interesting man, in marketing terms, is his ambivalence toward the advertised product. "I don't always drink beer," he says. Whaa? "But when I do," he adds, almost offhandedly, "I prefer Dos Equis." Double whaa? Generally, a brand icon will be an all-out cheerleader. Imagine Tony the Tiger admitting that he doesn't always eat cereal for breakfast, but that when he does, he tends to eat Frosted Flakes, like, most of the time. Doesn't have quite the same impact as "They're Grrrrrrreat!"

But the most interesting man hasn't actually been conceived as a brand icon—a la Mr. Clean or Ronald McDonald. 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.

Dos Equis could have hired an actual celebrity as a spokesperson, but celebrity endorsements have their pitfalls: 1) Celebrities get big paychecks. The actor who plays the most interesting man—though his IMDB credits include a bunch of rad 1980s television shows—presumably does not command a huge fee. 2) A celebrity can fall out of favor with the fickle public or become embroiled in a scandal that tarnishes his image. 3) This character is way funnier than any celebrity could be.

Grade: B+. Well-made, amusing ads that somehow manage to blend absurd humor with suave sophistication. The campaign's less successful companion Web site is rich with content but often devolves into Maxim-ish lifestyle advice. I assure you, only the world's least-interesting men read Maxim

Is there an ad you love, hate, or can't for the life of you understand? Send your suggestions to adreportcard@gmail.com.

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