Welcome back to my I Doff my Cap series, in which I will identify and praise brand advertising campaigns that have not only impressed and inspired me massively but that have also crossed the threshold to become part of our cultural lexicon.
The next brand I would like to doff my cap to is the Mexican beer, Dos Equis. Despite almost a century of selling products around South America, the beer was only exported to the US for the first time in 1983. But, by 2009, it had become America’s fastest-growing import.
So, what can explain such success? Well, Dos Equis is, indeed, a great beer but its growth wasn’t down purely to being an amazing product. The ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ advertising campaign, launched in 2006, played a huge role and, in my eyes, remains one of the most successful of all time.
What made the campaign so different?
Dos Equis created a fictional character, ‘the world's most interesting man’, who I’d argue became almost bigger than the brand itself. In an age when brands are largely narcissistic and it has to be about them, it was a fascinating approach.
It’s human nature not to be fond of narcissism. Often, we shy away from anything or anyone that displays those tendencies. So, brands wishing to avoid the perception of narcissism are faced with a challenge - how do you convey how brilliant you are without coming across as conceited?
Well, Dos Equis solved the conundrum perfectly. They created a fictional character who wasn’t too brand-heavy and who inspired brand love simply by being relatable. And, instead of taking itself too seriously like many other brands, the beermaker gave ‘the world's most interesting man‘ a tongue in cheek humour that consumers then associated with the brand.
Neither the concept nor the character had any significant correlation with the brand. The adverts didn’t mention key product details, for example, such as how hoppy the beer is or its alcohol strength, and the only link you could point to is the fact the character is a swarthy Mexican.
This absence leaves something of a void the audience must fill with assumptions and associations they can only make by observing the character. And this is where much of the genius is found.
Dos Equis’ understanding of its target market was key to the campaign’s success. If we look at the man himself, he is 50-60 years old, smug and good-looking. He has the persona of a care-free billionaire who swans around the world, doing as he pleases. He is someone you would probably take an instant dislike to in real life.
If he had been described in a storyboard meeting with another brand, the chances are they’d have run a mile, thinking he says nothing about their company and perhaps even labelling him ‘the most loathsome man in the world’ instead. But, Dos Equis saw an opportunity and ran with it.
Dos Equis created a man who, when diving for pearls, re-emerges with a full necklace. He tickles salmon and tosses them to a grizzly bear who’s studiously taking notes. When opportunity knocks and he’s not home, opportunity waits. And he’s the kind of guy who had an awkward moment once just to see how it felt.
By making the character both humorous and absurd, its target market, made up of a broad swathe of men from their late twenties right through to sixty and over, was able to relate to a devil-may-care figure many of them might secretly aspire to be.
He has something of Peter Pan about him. His escapades make him seem like he can’t or flat-out refuses to grow up. And he strikes a chord with a large number of men who, whatever stage of life they’re at, wish life wasn’t so serious and would love to be forever young.
Dos Equis understood that it could not appeal to everyone. So, the brand focused its communications on a specific but sizeable segment and it worked out incredibly well.
Consistency is key
The brand’s messaging went largely under the radar for a long period. It was semi-subliminal and certainly only picked up organically over time, due to the character’s glamour and sense of adventure. But the most important thing was that the campaign remained consistent.
When brands run campaigns, it’s easy for them to get bored. They’ll hear celebrity X delivering message Y over and over again months before the campaign even airs. They limit their strategy to a six to twelve-month period and, when that is up, they switch tactics, find a new approach and maybe even enlist a new agency.
However, they often fail to look at things through the same lens as their customers. Although they may feel they have exhausted the message, it is regularly the case that their audience hasn’t, and it’s change for the sake of change.
Dos Equis ran the campaign for ten years. That’s brave these days but, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Repetition and effective frequency are fundamentals of advertising and it was the brand’s persistence and consistency that really helped get the message across.
Dos Equis was confident enough to grow organically
Over the ten year period, the brand experienced consistent and steady growth. The business must have known that the campaign and the product had the opportunity to go global from the outset. But, rather than going full throttle, investing in every market with offices, brand teams, distribution hubs and above the line advertising spend, they let the campaign breathe and take its natural course.
Ambitious expansion is the death of one brand just as often as it is the making of another. Whereas multiple large investments all over the world posed a huge risk, the adoption of a slow-burn, long-term growth strategy was much safer. But it relied heavily on a strong campaign and Dos Equis nailed it.
Brand awareness expanded organically, as more and more people, businesses, bars and club owners saw the campaign and demand for the beer gradually increased. This created a pull effect, rather than the usual push strategy we see so often, in which thirsty fans sought out the beer and the business could build its infrastructure and capabilities incrementally.
Ahead of the times
I’ve always been interested in early adopters of new communication channels. If we think back to 2006, social media was nothing like it is today but Dos Equis were one of the first brands to really understand its power as a mass marketing tool.
Concepts, such as big data, were in their relative infancy at the time too but Dos Equis were ahead of it all. They took the risk and held their nerve which, in my opinion, was a key factor behind the success of both the campaign and the brand itself.
When everyone else was going right, they went left. They created some stand-out advertisements and placed them on a new channel, rather than on TV where they would simply get lost in the white noise of every other brand campaign.
Dos Equis understood that not everyone needed to see the advert or hear about the product on day one. It recognised that it was a relatively small brand in a new market with lots of competition. So, it was patient, knowing it would take years for its message even to create brand recall, let alone be the first thing on everybody’s mind.
They let the campaign germinate and run over a ten year period, slowly penetrating the market and consumer minds. People found the campaign and the brand for themselves and then self-fertilised it across their own circles by word of mouth and by sharing funny videos.
A brand clearly having fun is refreshing to see
As someone who does over-analyse advertising, it was refreshing to see a brand have fun for a change. In fact, I would have loved to have worked on the campaign for this very reason. They never once went back to the drawing board to start afresh. Instead, creativity and strategic thinking went into tweaking, evolving and adapting as each advert became increasingly over the top.
And, from a personal perspective, I never drank Dos Equis before this campaign. Now, whenever I see it, I choose to drink it. So, even as a cynic who knows something at least about the game, it influenced me.
Was it the world’s most interesting advertising campaign? I’m not sure about that but it was certainly one of the best executed. Dos Equis achieved greatness and notoriety, not to mention significant market share and geographical growth, with a strategy that refused to follow the herd.
But, despite being almost deliberately different, the campaign stuck to some of the most important fundamentals of advertising theory. In that, it was quite brilliant and that’s exactly why I doff my cap.
Mucho respecto, Dos Equis...