Start With The Truth - Then Bond Over It

My partner, Jeff Sexton, wrote such a great blog post this week. I felt the need to share it with you. Enjoy!

It’s one of the best ad campaigns from the last two decades.

To the point where it’s become a massive internet meme you’ll recognize as soon as you read the phrase: “I don’t always X, but when I do, I Y

From a “going viral and impacting the culture” standpoint, that’s a huge victory for Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man In the World” campaign.

But did you know the campaign also sold an equally epic amount of beer?

Or that it consistently created increased sales every year of its 10-year run, from 2006 until 2016?  When the whole of North America was opting for craft and micro brews over imports, Dos Equis was up 34% by the end of the campaign.

So what’s the secret behind this phenomenally successful campaign? It started with some basic truths that connected:

  1. The target market, and
  2. The product itself

The Essential Truths About The Target Market

As for the target market, here’s a quote from Ken Kuenz, the then-CMO of Heineken (yes, Heineken — ownership of breweries and distribution rights is complicated, OK?

“We had a consumer segmentation study and the target segment was “monsters” — young guys who go out A LOT, and drink A LOT and don’t care what they drink. This was the insight that informed “I don’t always drink beer” line. The line was controversial internally, but it was rooted in consumer truth.

Casting an old guy was controversial. Originally Euro presented younger guys more in the target. But the concept wasn’t credible without the guy being more seasoned. The inspiration was the uncle who never got married and was always doing cool shit, Hemingway-esque…

…The original tagline was a lame translation of the strategy statement, something like “Dos Equis, the most interesting beer in the world.” Our challenge was always can’t we say it without saying it. And right before the work was going to be shown at the [distributors] convention, Kling called me up and said I think I’ve got it, would you consider changing the end line to “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

And here’s a quote from another insider from the campaign:

When we pitched the campaign, we imagined the MIM as an older man — the embodiment of a life well-lived… We wanted to address any concerns about casting a gray-haired man so we created additional comps for focus groups with a few younger men in them… Side note: The closer the MIM was to the age of our respondents, the less appealing he was. He became threatening and they disliked him. The MIM was meant to be aspirational and that only worked when he was significantly older than the target, since that gave the target a few decades to become just as interesting.

Do you get the important points, here?

It wouldn’t be credible for the Most Interesting Man to always, or even usually, drink beer. He’s cultured, and a man’s man. Think Hemingway-meets-James-Bond: a man who drinks martinis and scotch and well-aged rum. So the line, “I don’t always drink beer” nods to that truth about the character — which reflects an important truth about the audience as well.

This was more of a bonding campaign than a traditional branding campaign.

In some ways you could think of Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man as The Marlboro Man rebooted for the 21st Century. And in turn, you could think of The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, as the MIM’s younger brother.

All three are campaigns focused on creating an emotional and aspirational bond with target audience with only a rather tenuously associative (but still important!) connection to the product itself.

Remember, explicitly saying that Dos Equis was the most interesting beer in the world was lame, while having the most interesting man in the world prefer Dos Equis (when he occasioned to drink beer) was gold.

Great writers don’t speak about character and action, they speak through character and action. That’s how you say it without saying it. And it’s what makes these kinds of bonding campaigns so powerful. People bond over the imagery and values of the character, rather than any kind of logical evaluation of the product.

All of which is why it was so important that the Most Interesting Man be older:

  • First, there’s the basic truth that any man needs time to accumulate life experiences and great stories — again start with (and stick to) the truth!
  • Second, as the second quote states, the target audience needs to feel that they can aspire to become the MIM, and thereby identify with him, rather than feeling outcompeted by him.

The Essential Truth About The Product

Before the campaign, Dos Equis was a niche import: a premium beer from Mexico.

And if you’re in charge of getting more people to buy more of that beer, you’re basically in charge of getting those beer drinkers to change their mind about the beer. Which means you can do one of two things

  1. Present them with new information with which to make a new decision, or
  2. Make them feel differently about what they already know

In this case, what those beer drinkers already “knew” about Dos Equis was that it was an unusual contrast: Expensive Mexican beer?

The way to get people to feel differently about that unusual contrast was to frame it as interesting and intriguing rather than odd or questionable.

Where the creative team tapped into genius was the Hemingway connection.

Because of Hemingway’s well known love of Cuba, most American’s had a built-in, Spanish-speaking, south-of-the-border association with the idea of an iconic manly-man-of-many-tales. So connecting the unusual Dos Equis with the inherently interesting Hemingway-esque character allowed people to bond with both the character and his preferred beer.

In other words, the team started with the essential truth about the product: it WAS interesting to have a premium beer from Mexico marketed in North America.

Think about it, would that campaign have worked for freaking Budweiser? Or Molson? Hell, no!

So if you’re going to copy something from this campaign, don’t blatantly rip off the “I don’t always” line. Copy the desire to start with the truth.

P.S. Of course, the writing talent for these commercials was off the charts brilliant for this campaign, as well. Would it surprise you to learn that the writers created their own style guide that said what could and could not be done by the Most Interesting Man?

Morty Silber, CEO

Mad Strategies Inc.
a Wizard of Ads Partner

Morty SilberComment