King of beer sales, amigo

The ad campaign that’s made Dos Equis a household name

King of beer sales, amigoFreeing a trapped bear, leading a midnight hike through the jungle, playing a rousing game of jai alai—it’s all in a day’s work for the Most Interesting Man in the World, the star of the current ad campaign for Dos Equis beer. Featuring veteran TV actor Jonathan Goldsmith in a gloriously rumpled tuxedo, the ads have made Dos Equis into a household name, no small feat in the current recession.

Launched in Canada in 2008, the ads (which have appeared in some U.S. markets since 2006, and went national there this year) show our protagonist engaged in various acts of derring-do as a narrator recites facts about him: “The police often question him just because they find him interesting.” “He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels.” Sunburned and silver-haired, Goldsmith’s character dangles a bottle of Dos Equis from thumb and forefinger, presumably unwinding after his latest escapade. “I don’t always drink beer,” he rumbles. “But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

The campaign has won awards, and sparked a slew of imitators—including Don Cherry, who did his Most Interesting Man impersonation on Hockey Night in Canada. At the Dos Equis Facebook page, which has over 150,000 fans, people post favourite facts about him, or invent their own. The character even hosts a Most Interesting Academy online, where devotees can learn everything from survival tips to animal kingdom lore. “When I drink Dos Equis, I quote [the ads] from memory,” says Martin Bateman, 24, a ship’s officer who lives in St. John’s, Nfld. He and his friends are planning to post their own tribute video on YouTube. Bateman’s favourite line? “He can speak French—in Russian.”

All this has translated into huge gains for Dos Equis at a time when most imports are struggling, says Dan Wandel, an analyst with Information Resources, Inc. Case sales of imported beer in the U.S. are down over four per cent this year compared to last, as beer drinkers turn to lower-priced domestics, yet Dos Equis, a Mexican beer, is up almost 22 per cent, he notes. According to Sleeman, the brand’s Canadian marketing and sales agent, sales have more than tripled in the past year. Wandel attributes this in part to the highly successful ad campaign. “What Dos Equis has done in the current environment is nothing short of remarkable,” Wandel says. “It’s the bright star in the [imports] segment.”

Even so, the campaign was seen as a risk. After all, these aren’t your typical party-on-the-dock, girls-in-bikini beer ads; and Goldsmith is older than the target market. Men aged 21 to 34 might want to be the Coolest Man, or the One Who Gets the Girls—but would they want to be the Most Interesting? Conway Williamson, chief creative officer of Euro RSCG New York, the agency behind the ads, believes the answer is yes. “When they get to the bar, they want to tell a better story about the life they lead,” he says. The Goldsmith character, whom Williamson calls “James Bond meets Ernest Hemingway,” is an aspirational figure. Martin Bateman certainly sees it that way: “Everyone wants to be the Most Interesting Man,” he says.

But that wasn’t the only gamble. Goldsmith’s character may be the only spokesperson in recent memory to admit he doesn’t always consume his product—a neat trick that makes him even more appealing. (After all, would the Most Interesting Man in the World ever shill on TV?) That “honesty” helped boost the brand’s all-important authenticity, says Kheri Tillman, vice-president of Dos Equis at Heineken USA. “In the long run, that’s how our consumers drink beer,” she notes. “It resonated with them.”

If this campaign was a risk, though, it was a calculated one. Alan Middleton, an assistant professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, believes Dos Equis had an opportunity: as large brewers turn their attention to growing markets including China, he explains, advertising in “cash-cow markets” like Canada has gotten lazy. As a little-known brand, Dos Equis had little to lose. Even the recession presented an opportunity of sorts, as imports tend to struggle in a down economy, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

Above all, the campaign is tongue-in-cheek, Middleton notes, and for young males, that’s the appeal. Dos Equis ads are reminiscent of the “Chuck Norris Facts” that became an Internet sensation (“Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.”) or even the award-winning Burger King commercials featuring the mascot with a creepy, oversized head. Matthew Thomson, an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, says casting Goldsmith was a stroke of brilliance. “He’s an actor who thrived in the ’80s,” appearing in shows like Magnum P.I. and Knight Rider. The ads, then, can capitalize on “all the cheesy associations that using an ’80s TV actor will bring.”

And customers like Bateman can’t get enough. Before seeing the ads, he had never heard of Dos Equis; Coors Light was his beer of choice. Now, “Dos Equis is all I drink,” he says. “It’s a really good beer.”