Under normal circumstances I would not have much to say about Dos Equis‘ campaign, since it came out before this blog even started, but isn’t old enough to be new again, like my embarrassing Hathaway Shirt rant from when I knew very little about advertising other than David Ogilvy. I want to keep this blog from degenerating into a bunch of spec ads with minimal commentary or criticism, which it had been doing for a few weeks now, so here goes…
Actually, who am I kidding? I always have something to say about anything advertising-related, I just usually keep my mouth shut, but this campaign is interesting for several reasons.
Irony without Snark
On the one hand it is tongue-in-cheek, but not so tongue-in-cheek as to be snarky. ‘The most interesting man in the world’ (TMIMITW) is indeed quite interesting, commercials show him doing things which are the stuff of Hemingway novels, early Bond movies and pulp fiction:
Particularly dig the kendo reference in this one. Maclean’s mentions a ‘Wes Anderson’ aesthetic to them, to which I disagree, there’s nothing intentionally dorky about the guy at all, the stock is purposefully grainy and jerky to evoke Latin American/European period footage, the feel is meant to be heroic. It’s got more in common with Fidel Castro and those ‘Your Dad…’ Canadian Club print ads than Rushmore.
Not that Snark is Necessarily Bad…
An example of a beer campaign that is snarky-but-oh-so-brilliant is the ‘Real Men of Genius’ commercials. There are now countless iterations of this basic theme, and it’s hands-down one of the greatest beer campaigns of all time. I’m pretty sure it and Silver Bullet for Coors and other such campaigns defined the now-ubiquitous two-tone approach to beer commercials.
But there’s now too much of it.
The typical approach: focus your commercials on bodacious babes, hinting not-so-subtly at how they seem to come with the alcohol, or focus your commercials on stupid guys, hinting not-so-subtly that men are idiots and do stupid things either for beer, with beer, or after beer(s). Sometimes you combine the two, and make a commercial about a stupid guy who gets girls or doesn’t get girls because of beer.
Why ‘Staying Thirsty’ is Morally Victorious
In the Dos Equis commercials we have a reversal, TMIMITW is a role model, who is successful with women because of what is innate to his character rather than that of the beer. You could also say having lots of supermodels around comes with the territory, that you can’t be all that successful as a man in society without also being a potential lothario, but it doesn’t change the fact that these are girls he wooed on his own grounds and weren’t there for beer or provided by the beer*. He even comes out and says he ‘[doesn’t] always drink beer…’ and in another commercial claims to be endorsing the beer as a favor, and not because he’s a ‘shill’. While other campaigns still emphasize ‘sexy’ and ‘fun’, these do it in a completely different light.
In contrast to campaigns that belittle men and portray them as little more than incompetent, sex-obsessed beer receptacles, Dos Equis presents manhood in a positive light. It celebrates aspects of stereotypical masculinity and adulthood which are admirable, most notably the concept of mastery. It’s a bit corny at times with its Chuck Norris-style facts long after these were funny, and the thick odor of machismo found on the website can at times be nauseating. I also get that its portrayal of women may not be any more positive than your average beer commercial, but at its core I think the message is positive. When parsed out, the social cues of drinking here are far healthier, the idea being that it’s okay to drink, but that drinking is only a component of a much richer life packed with innumerable other pursuits. Even the tagline, ‘Stay thirsty, my friends.’ is a double entendre that celebrates a healthier lifestyle than ‘take one for the team’ or ‘where there’s life, there’s Bud’.
Oh, and Here’s Some Ogilvy
Giving credit where it’s due, I think at least some of the imagery in these ads must have been inspired by Commander Whitehead and the Man In the Hathaway Shirt**. Not saying it’s any less creative or original, just musing over here. After all, George Lois just came out with a book showing how none of his ideas were produced in a vacuum. Part of what drove Ogilvy to pick the Russian Baron-type as a model for his eyepatch-wearer was because he sensed an air of sophistication, the eyepatch added a sense of danger and mystery. At their core, both Lois and Ogilvy were firm believers in the idea that great ads had to have memorable visuals and copy, hence the men who represented Hathaway and Schweppes both had striking visual features:
More specifically, notice that these men are doing interesting things, the story and the print may be about something else, but the images are rich, powerful, and captivating. These are men who’d stand up against the Dos Equis guy and they were people guys of the time found interesting.
These days you still have to have a story, but once in a while let’s make it a story about somebody we aspire to be, rather than somebody we think we are during a bad day.
*Hopefully this will translate into the real world of beer promotion and mean I won’t have to sit through a hockey game with Molson’s hired guns ever again. Really, while the idea of providing a free hockey game AND hot chicks might sound appealing, it’s actually just awkward, and makes me feel really creepy.
**Not an SEO-grab I promise