I always drink beer, and when I do, I rarely drink Dos Equis

It’s true, I’m not a fan of Dos Equis the beer but I am a big fan of their ad campaign, The World’s Most Interesting Man. And I’m not alone. Facebook pages devoted to the character have over 200,000 fans combined. The commercials are funny and well made. The entire campaign is a near pitch-perfect execution of the branding brief provided to the ad agency, Euro RSCG:

    • Distinctive (other than “Mexican-ness,” a direct quote from the agency’s initial research)
    • Desirable
    • Premium identity
    • Different from other brands
    • Cool brand
    • Worth paying more for

Okay, this list could be found in almost anyone’s branding brief, but then you look at “anyone’s” advertising and the execution does not live up to the intent.  Few industries produce as much advertising that looks as if it is cut from the same cloth as does the beer industry. The Dos Equis commercials are certainly distinctive and different from other brands. More importantly, they not only bring the brand intent to life, they delivered the desired measurable results.

Although Heineken USA, which owns the Dos Equis brand, first introduced The World’s Most Interesting Man in 2007, they did not go national with the campaign until 2009. Yup, right in the middle of the recession. Sales of Dos Equis in the US went up 27% while the most of the beer industry was seeing declines and it became one of the top 10 selling imports.

There are several things I love about all this, the first being that Heineken went for it during a recession and did not cower behind cost cutting, at least not in marketing the 2X. This, it seems to me, is how The World’s Most Interesting Man would have done it, attack when the chips are down.  But my favorite thing about the entire campaign is that the ad agency, Euro RSCG, appears to be breaking some rules.

Broken Rule #1: They used an old guy in a beer commercial. No, really, they did. The actor is 72.

Broken Rule #2: The old guy admits in the commercial that he doesn’t always drink beer. No, really, he does: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.”

I take notes for the specialty coffee industry from Broken Rule #2 because Broke Rule #1 is a bit of an illusion. Yes, the commercials feature a 72 year old man, but he is often surrounded by young women and the ads still capture the younger demographic because The World’s Most Interesting Man is everything 20 something guys actually think they will be and everything 30 something guys hope they will be. This is truly clever, a beer commercial that targets a wide demographic swath without relying on delusion or nostalgia from older men as they watch all the young and fit people having fun at the beach or out at a bar seemingly without other obligations.

[For a disquieting take on these kinds of traditional beer commercials, check out a public service commercial from the same advertising agency, Euro RSCG, herehttp://www.eurorscg.com (go to Our Work then TV Showcase and click INPES). And while you’re there watch their commercial for the Let’s Color Project sponsored by Dulux, which is Glidden Paint in the US. Also check out their commercials for Evian, Peugeot, and Canal+.]

The work-around on Rule #1 is clever , but Broken Rule #2 is just plain brilliant and raises questions for any marketer.  The brilliant part is that in the process of making a seemingly negative (but true) comment about beer, they frame the message that The World’s Most Interesting Man has a sophisticated palate and he ranges across a wide selection of drinks. He cannot settle down with just one kind of beverages and he never pretended he would. You knew what he was when he started drinking you.

Who doesn’t want to be so interesting that the answer to the question of what we like to drink might take a long time to answer. It depends. Where am I? Who am I with, kings or presidents? Have I just finished running with the bulls, or writing a novel?

And never mind the fact that drinking the same beer whenever you drink beer is the opposite of interesting. Yes, it’s a damn annoying detail but it is overshadowed by how well, in one brief feint with the marketing knife, they find our soft belly and sink it home. If this were not true, sales of Dos Equis would not have increased as dramatically as they did.

Dude, if you’re going to look this good when you reach retirement and look back on a life full of… action, maybe, then you had better be choosy about your beer. And, we know you know about wine and vodka and stuff too and don’t sit around drinking beer all day, but, you know, when you do, make sure it is as sophisticated as you are… brother.

I don’t buy it. You don’t buy it. But a whole bunch of beer drinkers did. Results.

Breaking the rules, written and lore. Thinking outside the box. Turning the problem inside out. Pick a cliché. For me, it’s about never letting an assumption escape alive. The specialty coffee industry, now well into its adulthood, has piled up its fair share of assumptions and sacred cows (speaking of clichés).   It’s not always easy to recognize them.  But when I do I try, if I have the presence of mind, to ask what if. Euro RSCG asked, What if we used an old guy and what if he sold a positive with a negative?

Your list will be different than my list, but here are some somewhat generic, but by no means benign, starters for coffee:

What if manual brewing (complete the question)?
What if barista competitions (complete the question)?
What if coffeehouses (complete the question)?
What if my target market (complete the question)?
What if instant coffee (complete the question)?
What if the supply (complete the question)?
What if China (complete the question)?
What if New York or London or Moscow (complete the question)?
What if Social Networking (complete the question)?
What if the temperature (complete the question)?
What if quality (complete the question)?

It might not be The World’s Most Interesting List, but I could gather a group of coffee professionals who would argue for a month about the most important sentence completion, let alone the answers to the resulting questions.

What an abundant place we find ourselves in as an industry segment if it is true that we can still argue about the questions before we even get to the answers.  What an empty place if we believe we understand the questions and have our answers filed and ready for the next reporter or grad student or industry presentation.