Friday, June 12, 2009

How intersting is he? Dos Equis' ironized appeciation of TMIMITW suggests a new way to communicate relevance

The new Dos Equis ads starring a faux celebrity spokesperson "The Most Interesting Man in the World" (herafter: TMIMITW) are getting a fair amount of attention and deservedly so. There is a smart non-industry review here on Slate which is worth checking out, suggesting the influence of Wes Anderson. (The review also points out inclusion of the surprisingly daring line "I don't always drink beer, but when I do I prefer Dos Equis" which is worth additional discussion that won't happen below)

Like a lot of ads marketing mainly to young man, Dos Equis is trying to figure out to represent the new (or at least shifting) ideal of masculinity to the next generation of young men. It's not as easy as it looks. On the one hand you have to avoid the embarrassing macho conventions of the past but you can't go all wimpy and metrosexual on your audience either. There is already a lot of strong work in the space: Axe and Old Spice or earlier, Budweiser's Real Man of Genius campaign or Erroll Morris' High Life commercials.

In various ways, all these ads try and pretty much succeed at having their cake and eating it too, by bringing some ironic perspective on a bad male behavior (usually messiness, laziness or horniness or all three) But the ironic framework in the Dos Equis ad is a little more complicated and interesting than most. By using a fictional spokesperson, they've created the opportunity to make the ad less about the character than our relationship to the character.

Most brands use 'real' spokespeople because they want to associate their brand with the spokesperson's famous skill or behavior or attitude. The MIMITW, however, isn't real. He's a fantastically perfect model of traditional masculine virtues: power, charm, sex appeal, strength, proficiency. Of course all kinds of highly stylized executional cues (the Will Lyman voiceover --you've maybe heard it on Frontline--to the Wes Anderson-styling noticed in the Slate interview) and some pretty funny writing make it clear that we aren't supposed to actually take this guy seriously. We like him, but we like him as a character, not as an actual role model. (Though if some see him unironically as a role model--as I'm sure many do--that's fine too).

But I'd argue that the actual persuasive force of the ad isn't about the character at all but rather our shared relation to the character. Dos Equis is trying to create a bond with their male audience by sharing our recognition--in a funny way of course--about the contradictions inherent in modern masculine identity. We can't be macho and can't quite not be either.

I know that's a pretty indirect and academic description of a funny ad so let me try it this way. For most of us I'd argue that Dos Equis isn't saying: Drink this and you'll be like TMIMITW. Rather, what it's saying is: At Dos Equis: we get it. And if you drink Dos Equis, you'll show the world that you are a guy that gets it too. Dos Equis is for guys who get it. Guys know that being a a cool guy, an interesting guy, isn't that simple anymore. And it's by showing the world that you get it, that you get to be interesting.

Whatever the simple comic charms of the ad, it suggests a potentially new path to building a bond with an elusive audience. Not by communicating some ideal or desired behavior (buy this/get laid) but by communicating a particular relationship to some loaded cultural content that the brand and the consumer can share.


Paul Soldera said...

The big hole in that argument is that if I am smart enough to 'get it', I probably realize that 75% of the rest of the population is 'dumb' enough not to. So how do I 'show the world' I'm interesting when 3/4s of them probably think I am a tosser for believing the beer I drink actually makes me interesting?


sk said...

Ha, Paul. I don't disagree. I guess I'd argue that if you're dumb or at least perceptually dull enough to miss the irony you'll also be so socially insensitive you'll miss the fact that other people view it ironically. Seriously, I do think the irony at work here isn't critical in the classic sense. It's rather some version of "soft irony" in which we mingle gentle criticism with nostalgic appreciation. One of advertising's early rhetorical moves (as noted by Thomas Frank among others) was to appropriate irony within the sales pitch so that the viewer could buy into the pitch without feeling like a tosser (am i using that right?) for being so gullible. To my eye, TMIMITW takes this approach to a new level, but it's probably a difference of degree rather than kind.

Paul Soldera said...

Yep, agree. It is a good use of 'soft irony' - and I actually am a big fan of this type of ad. I loved the Bud 'Genius' radio spots.

Although I am still going to say that the un-ironic interpretation is not necessarily as a role model, but rather as a tosser ('dickhead'). I think the real creative genius in this type of add is making both the ironic and un-ironic versions work for the brand. Not 100% sure they got there with this one.

I am off to the pub tomorrow night with a few friends who have nothing to do with advertising. I will float the ad in conversation and see what they think. Could prove myself wrong :).

Tell her what she's won said...

I don't think he is interesting at all.

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