The Ironic Man: Dos Equis Crafts Viral Campaign

Avi Dan helped conceive the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” viral campaign, though he left the advertising agency before the Man was driven to the hospital for delivery.

The agency that dreamt the Man up was Euro RSCG, where Dan served as global head of business development. As one of the few modern marketing marvels to blossom on television, the giant success of the “Most Interesting Man” was unexpected—it took years for the Dos Equis brand manager to approve the campaign and say yes to the Man—but it resulted in a grand payoff for the original concept.

Sales of Dos Equis doubled between 2006, when the campaign launched, and 2011, when the brand posted 25 percent sales growth even while owner Heineken’s numbers slipped, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights.

“It was very unusual in the sense that, if you look at 99 percent of beer advertising, it’s all about young men and women in a bar,” Dan said. “It’s very formulaic. And we came up with something that completely went against the formula.”

“The Most Interesting Man in the World” is a brazen series of television commercials that illustrates a 60-something hero with a grey beard and even darker diversions. He is a womanizer with a daredevil complex, and when he occasionally indulges in a beer, he says, “I prefer Dos Equis.”

The advertisements, accented by lines like, “The police often question him—just because they find him interesting,” bolstered consumer support and drove Dos Equis to No. 6 on the list of import beers, according to Ad Age.

Heineken marketing and selling expenses are approximately 12.5 percent of its revenue, or nearly $1.5 billion, as reported in the company’s 2012 Q2 report. Dan estimated a marginal amount of that, perhaps a fifth, goes to Dos Equis branding.

While the campaign did not influence the “big boys” such as Budweiser, Coors, and Miller because it is a small player in the category, it did influence a slew of copycats in the industry, “because the clients are saying, ‘Why don’t you do something similar to that?’” Dan explained.

The Man found traction with audiences, and particularly the young demographic, because he acted sardonically. As proof, Dan pointed to the Sept. 22 season premiere of “Saturday Night Live,” in which host Joseph Gordon-Levitt spoofed the campaign in a bit called “Tres Equis” in which he played the son of the Man.

“When ‘Saturday Night Live’ starts making fun of commercials, that’s good,” Dan said. “Because that means it’s penetrating culture.”

Another example of the Man’s influence in culture is his prevalence in the world of memes, or satirical videos, hash tags, and photos that provide commentary on the Internet. “The Most Interesting Man” is a popular go-to for average users to build their own jokes from templates on websites such as MemeGenerator.net and QuickMeme.com.

Memes are effective for both humor and meaningful observations, said Olivia Gonzalez, a senior at NYU studying comparative literature and philosophy. “A lot of people use them to perpetuate important things, like political memes, or things that can be really relevant commentary to what’s going on in pop culture,” she said. “Other memes can just be stupid and funny things that go viral on the Internet. Both are fun and have their own uses.”

Memes featuring the Man are as ironic as the campaign set out to be, reinforcing the principle with which Euro RSCG created the movement.

“The irony that was built into the campaign is the buffer that protects the campaign from people trying to make fun of it,” Dan said. “Young people love irony, and it wasn’t trying to hit them over the head with ‘buy this beer’ or some sort of a personality.”

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Library Pivot: The Long Game

The south facade of Bobst Library.

Michael Stoller recalls the cusp of the library industry’s pivot toward digitizing.

It was 1995, when he wrote an article for the Library Trends periodical about electronic journals—and struggled to find any to talk about.

“Most of them were little operations coming out in ascii text form [without formatting] from guys in Colorado in log cabins and what have you,” said the director of collections and research services at NYU Libraries.

In contrast, upwards of 90 percent of journal content today is in electronic form, evidence of a major shift in the library industry as it turns toward digital content.

The electronic pivot is absolutely necessary for libraries, according to Marty Zwillig, founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, Inc., which provides entrepreneur assistance to startups and small businesses. He said libraries risk extinction as they squander patrons to the Internet.

“Libraries, in the traditional sense, are obsolete and rapidly dying, sort of like the train industry after the advent of automobiles and airplanes,” Zwillig wrote in an email. “Some people will always hang on to the old ways, but digital data on the Internet has so many advantages for most requirements.”

Despite the convenience of the Internet, library use remains generally unchanged, according to an annual survey conducted by Harris Interactive. In both 2007 and 2011, 62 percent of respondents surveyed said they had visited a library in the past year, indicating sustained interest in the services.

“As anyone can tell as they’ve walked through the atrium of Bobst Library during the academic year, we’re not wanting for people coming through the front door,” Stoller said. “We’ve got lots of people in this building.”

Libraries are digitizing to keep up with demand. The largest transformation at NYUL, Stoller said, has been a boost in the paper-to-electronic ratio in acquired content such as periodicals and books. Other major shifts involve the creation of a digital video library and bolstered reference functions.

Though the library industry pivot has picked up measurably in the past 10 years, Zwillig said it may not be enough, “since most are run by local governments and institutions, which are notoriously slow to change … Witness also the recent bankruptcy of Blockbuster, trying to hang onto movie rentals, when the world was changing to streaming video.”

Stoller disagrees. “Virtually, all we do is respond to what patrons’ needs are,” he said. “We do with paper when we need to, but people do increasingly expect to see information in digital form.”

Lydia Vasquez, a junior at NYU, said she uses the library not for its electronic resources but as both a study spot and for its book collection, which is five million volumes strong.

The fundamental nature of libraries is—and always will be—to connect people with information and scholarship, Stoller said, adding that the pivot may be slow, but it is ultimately beneficial.

“Technology obviously has substantially shifted, and for the most part overwhelmingly enhanced our ability to do that, to build those connections for people.”

Click below to listen to my conversation with Michael Stoller!

We Peacock Comedy? NBC Tries for Better This Fall

As the broadcast networks roll out season and series debuts over the next few weeks, some have more to prove than others. NBC sits at the top of that list; the TV network embarrassed itself repeatedly over the past few TV seasons, from the Conan/Leno mishap that absurdly landed Leno in primetime to the lack of traction surrounding its once-dominant Thursday night comedy block.

As it moves forward for the 2012-2013 season, NBC’s marketing logo has been “We [Peacock symbol] Comedy” for its new sitcoms. Let’s take a second to discuss. Every time I see that inane logo, I think to myself, Just what is that peacock supposed to symbolize? Is it a heart, insisting NBC loves comedy?

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Credit: Give Me My Remote

Is it a hot air balloon, signifying NBC’s comedies are full of it? Whatever it is, I believe NBC is stepping off on the wrong foot here. Marketing should be strong, clear, and memorable—in a good way. Not confusing and ambiguous. And it certainly should not leave the viewer guessing what the message is.

This marketing mishap speaks to a broader theme of NBC: It does not know how to brand itself. Ever since the star pack of Friends, The West Wing, Heroes, Will & Grace, Frasier, and ER graduated, NBC has failed to launch a non-reality hit. The Office was a hit in its heyday, but closing in on season 9 with dwindling ratings and another year sans Steve Carell, the show is largely ended in viewers’ minds. Most new shows on NBC do not make it past one or two seasons, including its big concepts, such as last year’s The Playboy Club, 2010’s J.J. Abrams show Undercovers, and heck even 2010’s The Jay Leno Show.

On the other hand, take a look at CBS, a network that unabashedly has branded itself as the go-to for procedural crime dramas and milks this concept for all its worth. Most successful dramas get spinoffs with new casts in different cities (most recently, NCIS spinoff NCIS: LA) and that formula works well for the CBS viewer. Even Fox has found a workable niche with quirky, single-camera comedies such as New Girl, Raising Hope, and, to an extent, Glee.

NBC has no go-to niche to cash in on. The closest network it resembles is ABC, which blends comedy and drama into its schedule with ease. If ABC is the Michael Phelps of TV scheduling, NBC is the kid who pees in the pool.
It’s difficult to say whether NBC fails because of the minds behind the network; the scheduling of the shows and the strong competition they face; or the viewers’ lack of interest in the network’s non-reality offerings (we all agree The Voice is a rare success that NBC dully needed). But to grab ahold of viewer interest, the powers that be need to keep happily offering things we want to watch, and I can count on one hand the number of people I know that are excited or even reasonably intrigued by Guys with Kids or Animal Practice on NBC this season.

Everyone is Crazy for Doritos Locos Taco

Ah, the power of co-branding.

Not too long ago, when I thought Taco Bell, I thought, “Gordita crunchwrap. Nachos bell grande. Fresco soft taco.” You know, Spanish words that have been Americanized with a Mexican menu item slapped on as a suffix.

No longer. Now, when I think Taco Bell, the immediate word that pops into my head is, “Doritos!” And despite the fact that I once tried the Doritos Loco Taco and found it to be a saltier but otherwise comparable version of the original hard taco, Doritos and Taco Bell are married in my mind. This, I imagine, is exactly what Doritos wanted out of its partnership with Taco Bell, and is therefore an excellent case study of the powers of successful co-branding.

Launched in March, the DLT quickly became the top-selling menu item at Taco Bell by June, hitting 100 million in sales. And last week, the DLT surpassed 200 million in sales.

As David Lazarus at the L.A. Times says,

I don’t know whether this is a tribute to Taco Bell’s marketing skill or a commentary on the culinary tastes of the American people.

We’ll put the checkmark in the former category. Taco Bell has done an admirable job marketing the orange-tinged shell to the point of utmost popularity in six months. And Doritos abundantly benefitted by getting its product in the hands of its core loyalists—men under the age of 35—while simultaneously keeping the company top-of-mind.

Doritos, a brand of Frito-Lay (which in turn is a division of PepsiCo), is no stranger to carefully crafted marketing success: its annual “Crash the Super Bowl” fan contest continually scores highest among Super Bowl viewers. Extending the brand into the hands of the fans is more than a marketing ploy; it puts fans in control of the brand and how it is perceived.

The ultimate winner in this on-going triumph, however, is co-branding. Taco Bell will undoubtedly note record sales when it files its 2012 10-K and Doritos has found a way to engage fans beyond the Super Bowl timeline. What remains to be seen is whether this partnership opens doors between more consumer brands and restaurant brands, and if so, how they can duplicate this accomplishment.