The Most Interesting Man in the World

poster

        Dos Equis brand beer (a subsidiary of Heineken International) started out as an unrecognized Mexican premium beer that began importation into the U.S. market in 1973.  After facing struggling sales and difficulty in penetrating into the premium imported beer market, Dos Equis brand beer decided it was time for a change.  The source of this change was a marketing firm called Euro RSCG.  The challenge (as described by the firm’s website) was that Euro RSCG needed to find a way to present Dos Equis that would create awareness, pique curiosity, and go beyond conventional Mexican imagery1.  Research by the firm found that the average beer drinker wanted to be seen as anything but average.  This sparked the idea for their campaigns lead character; The Most Interesting Man in the World.  According to Euro RSCG, the strategy behind The Most interesting Man in the World was,

        "[He] is seasoned in years, deserving of respect and grey-haired enough not to be viewed as competition, the Most Interesting Man is a magnet, rather than a mirror.  He is a man rich in stories and experiences, much the way the audience hopes to be in the future. Rather than an embodiment of the brand, The Most Interesting Man is a voluntary brand spokesperson: he and Dos Equis share a point of view on life that it should be lived interestingly."2

        The Most Interesting Man campaign first began airing commercials in 2006 and went national in 2009.  Since the start of the campaign, full year case sales are up 20%, and total dollar sales are up 33.7%.  During a time period where most imports found a decrease in growth, Dos Equis managed to see an increase. Studies done by the Millward Brown firm rated the Dos Equis commercials and found that commercials featuring the MIMITW were rated in the top 5% best ads ever tested3. The TV ads have become a viral sensation sparking many spoof series and sites.  However, TV isn’t the only area where the campaign has been popular.  On the Dos Equis website, which is largely dominated by the Most Interesting Man, Google Analytics reports that visitors spend an average 7.42 minutes per visit on the site.  The campaign has also earned honors at such events as the Cannes Lions Festival, the Effies, the Andy’s and was ranked as one of the top 10 TV ads by time magazine4.  Dos Equis has also received large support on social networking sites such as facebook and twitter.

        How does the humor used in these ads work to bring the ad and its products into everyday talk?  Multiple studies on advertising have found that, "…humorous advertising is more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome sales resistance, and enhance message persuasiveness"5.  Because of this, most ads featured in the U.S. try to illicit a humorous response among consumers.

        This article will examine these Dos Equis commercials and the consumer response in order to better understand why these commercials have become so popular.  Since humor seems to be a large part of commercials appeal, I will examine both the language and the visual content to find why people are so attracted to these commercials.  Since these commercials first started airing in the U.S., I will be focusing on American humor.  I will exclude the impact of gender roles since the average beer ad is targeted towards males and these commercials don’t seem to have a detrimental effect on females.  In order to judge consumer reaction, I will examine a multitude of consumer influenced sites and forums.  This will range from blogs to video comments and even consumer created parody websites.

Content

Ethnography

        The aspect of humor plays a prominent part in the association between the consumer and these commercials. In order to get a direct look at how consumers felt about these commercials, I examined the comments section of the YouTube clip of the commercial that contained the most number of views6. Here are some of those comments that seemed to carry the same theme as other posters:

AnomalousAnemone
1 day ago
stay thirst my friends???? isn't that the worst line to sell beer ever, YET I want some!!! and I want to be him!!!!!

BlackSoulAcid
1 week ago
he once made god question his own faith

Bukakaz
2 months ago
Alright guys this is the hierarchy of manliness:
1. The Most Interesting Man in the World
2. Chuck Norris (son of the above man)
3.Old Spice guy (son of Chuck Norris)
4. Bruce Campbell (son of Old Spice guy)

MysticMegaSaiyan01
1 year ago
i prefer dos equis
every time i see this commercial i laugh my ass off
StonedBeatleFan
1 year ago
lmao i love these commercials. i remember them saying he once had a awkward moment just to see how it felt. lmao

ilikerebels
11 months ago 35 http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
I don't always watch commercials, but when I do, I prefer this one.

BSNFabricating
11 months ago
I want to be this guy when I grow up. =)

virgilnilson
3 years ago
Manliest commercial in the world. I want to be him.

lalometalik
3 years ago
I'm making it a Dos Equis night tonight! I'm Thirsty!

           The most common themes I saw in these posts involved humor, manliness, and a desire to be the most interesting man in the world.

            In terms of social networking sites, the Dos Equis facebook page, at the writing of this article, has almost one million fans7.  The contents of the Dos Equis facebook “wall” contain consumer generated quotes that seek to imitate phrases in the commercials.  These quotes, along with dedicated websites8, are analogous to the Chuck Norris quotes that were an internet sensation for a period.  One dedicated fan has even created a twitter site where users can post their own Dos Equis man quotes9.

            From here I explored the Dos Equis created sites targeted at consumers.  The two main ones I used were the home site10 and a spin off site where you can join The Most Interesting Academy11.  The main site lets you engage in various activities, including watching the commercials, going into MIMITW’s office, learning insults in different languages, and arm wrestling Mao.  The academy website allowed me to “enroll” in the academy.  After I submitted some information including an alias, a mantra, and some other information, I was able to take courses (Note: You are able to take the “courses” without registering but you won’t be ranked).  The courses, titled with such things like “Command of the Animal Kingdom”, are basically mini-games where you try to achieve the highest score among registered users.  At the end of each year Dos Equis sends the seven top scorers to a program called the Most Interesting Show.

Analysis

            In order to see if these commercials succeed at creating humorous situations that would attract consumers, we have to understand what humor is.  Anthropologists have defined humor as setting up a surprise or a series of surprises for an audience; these surprises follow a general rubric of “incongruity”12.  William O. Beeman describes this type of incongruous humor best:
“A communicative actor presents a message or other content material and contextualizes it within a cognitive "frame." The actor constructs the frame through narration, visual representation, or enactment. He or she then suddenly pulls this frame aside, revealing one or more additional cognitive frames which audience members are shown as possible contextualizations or reframings of the original content material. The tension between the original framing and the sudden refraining results in an emotional release recognizable as the enjoyment response we see as smiles, amusement, and laughter. This tension is the driving force that underlies humor, and the release of that tension—as Freud pointed out—is a fundamental human behavioral reflex.”13

            What Beeman is saying in this quote that the main basis for humor is setting up something familiar for the audience and then giving them something unexpected.  The result of this collaboration is an emotional response that we recognize as humor.  However, humor is a bidirectional relationship.  The audience has to be able to understand the context and be familiar with the setup of the joke in order to illicit some sort of response.  We describe this as having a “sense of humor.”  This sense is achieved through life experiences that help give us the contextual background necessary for the understanding of humor.  Just as we learn to sense our state of health or well-being, we can learn to sense humor14.

            I decided to analyze the linguistic and visual aspects of these commercials to see if they meet the definition of humor.  On the linguistic side, I found that these commercials did meet the definition of humor.  One line from one of the commercials states, “He lives vicariously, through himself.” In this line we see the contextual setup; “He lives vicariously” is a statement that the target audience would probably understand.  However, after this the literature diverges, the audience expects him to live vicariously through another person but instead they learn that he lives vicariously through himself.  The second part of the statement is incongruous with the first because the definition of vicarious is experiencing through another person.  This statement not only surprises the audience, but it goes one step further by implying that there is no one else he would live through since he is the most interesting man in the world.  Here we see Beeman’s idea of frames within frames coming into play and creating a sort of “tension” that we recognize as humor.  Most of the lines stated in the commercials seem to follow this general form of incongruous humor.  Some examples are “If he were to punch you in the face, you would have to fight off the urge to thank him,” “He is the life of parties he has never attended,” “Police often question him, just because they find him interesting,” and “He never says anything tastes like chicken… not even chicken.”

            In terms of the visual, it too follows the same theme of incongruous humor.  In each commercial the audience is presented with a series of clips, most of which are shot with a grainy filter meant to imply a feeling of being old.  One commercial starts out with the MIMITW bench pressing two beautiful women in chairs while in a suit and apparently at a party.  The commercial proceeds to a now black and white video of him arm wrestling (while still in a suit) some sort of Asian general.  The next clip we are presented with is him releasing a bear from a bear trap, again wearing a suit.  All of these images follow the same ideal of humor by presenting a familiar a situation that the audience recognizes, but with a twist.  The image is recognizable but what is happening in it is incongruous.  Anthropologist Sam Pack theorizes that another reason why these images may be humorous is because the style that they are shot in is mediated by previous experiences with media of the same type15.  In this case it seems to be imitating 80’s style campy TV shows while simultaneously making fun of them.  This type of humor can be best described as American stiob.  Stiob is a Russion word for a type of parodic genre that reflects a type of sarcasm or irony16.  What differentiates it from normal sarcasm or irony is that it is more subtle and relies on imagery that is easily recognizable to the audience.  I draw parallels between American stiob and the images in the commercials because these images present a sort of sarcastic and ironic humor that is so subtle it is hard to tell if it is even supposed to be.  The only reason an audience member would be able to come to this conclusion is if they are familiar with the context and images they are being shown.  For example, an indigenous native of Ghana might see the image of the MIMITW arm wrestling an Asian officer and might recognize it as funny because of the juxtaposition of the two in terms of their dress and look.  What he or she wouldn’t understand is the subtle irony of this moment because of the tensions between the two factions at the time period the image is supposed to convey.  Since the native probably doesn’t have knowledge of American history, he or she doesn’t realize that the two people arm wrestling are probably enemies and therefore doesn’t grasp the humor behind the image (Stiob).

            Part of the genius behind these commercials is the fact that their humor is easily acceptable by the audience.  The references and images that are used don’t require a special niche of knowledge to interpret, just a general cultural experience.  In the thousands of YouTube comments there may have been only one person who didn’t understand the commercials.  Peter Wogan presents the argument that humor can also be derived from an intellectual impulse that he refers to as “the delight of insight”17.  Humor, he claims, is inexorably linked to intellectual pathways and by perceiving a joke, a person can also make intellectual discoveries.  Through these cognitive discoveries a person not only takes delight from the joke, but they also take delight from seeing others respond to a joke in the same manner.

            Wogan’s realization of the shared delight between persons experiencing humor together relates to the most important aspect of these commercials.  Laughter and humor mediate social contexts of exclusion and inclusion18.  Most people have had a moment where they have been the butt end of a joke or weren’t present for a humorous experience.  Because of this, these people are excluded from the joke and, in some ways, socially isolated.  What Dos Equis has done with these commercials is created a situation where everyone is included in the joke.  A type of “community” is created where you can only be included if you understand the joke or, as Dos Equis hopes, you drink the beer.  This sense of community has manifested itself online where we can directly observe the interest and desire to be included.  An example of this is the YouTube comments.   Posting on YouTube is a voluntary act yet we see thousands of comments on one video.  You also have the option of liking or disliking the video.  Almost all of the comments were in favor of the commercial (as seen in the ethnography) and they included a general interest of trying to be like or imitate the MIMITW.  What I also discovered was that there was a general derision for people who did not like the commercial. 

ExploreDestination
1 month ago 4 http://s.ytimg.com/yt/img/pixel-vfl3z5WfW.gif
the 44 people who disliked this must not be interesting.

           As ExploreDestination points out, there were 44 people who chose to dislike the commercial, but what was interesting was that ExploreDestination wasn’t the only one to make this statement.  There were multiple posts of people showing disdain for others who didn’t feel the same way as they did.  These people have been effectively shunned from the community surrounding the humor of the commercial.

            This sense of community is also apparent in the Dos Equis facebook page.  Boasting almost one million fans, this is another direct example of a massive online community surrounding the commercials and their spokesperson, the MIMITW.  However, on the facebook page we see a different way for consumers to show their mutual interest of the commercials.  Instead of commenting how much they like the commercials or how much they like the MIMITW, users post phrases meant to imitate those said in the commercials.  As Charles Colton once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  By imitating these commercials, people are showing their interest and keenness for them.  This can be seen in parody websites and other social networking sites like twitter.

            Dos Equis has tried to further expand this community by creating online sites like The Academy and their home website.  These sites let you participate in a way that makes you feel included with the others.  For example, when I joined the Dos Equis Academy, I became part of the class of 2010 where I could visually look up people that joined with me.  This creates an even more exclusive feel of community which could heighten the consumers feeling of “delight” by sharing it with other elite members. 

            These communities, both imaginary and virtual, are mediated by the humor presented during the commercial.  Though there are different types of humor and different ways of expressing this humor (literary and visual), they all create the same sense of inclusion and sharing that is reflected by the increase in sales of Dos Equis.

Sources


Works Cited

  1. Eurorscg.com
  2. Eurorscg.com
  3. http://www.allbusiness.com/services/business-services/4319351-1.html
  4. adage.com
  5. Alden, Dana L., Wayne D. Hoyer, and Lee Chol. "Identifying global and culture-specific dimensions of humor in advertising: A multinational.." Journal of Marketing 57.2 (1993): 64. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Bc0WjTT0Ps
  7. http://www.facebook.com/DosEquis
  8. MIMITW Quotes
  9. http://www.dosequisguy.com/
  10. http://dosequis.com/
  11. http://dosequis.com/academy/
  12. Beeman, William O. "Humor." Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 9.1 (1999): 103-6.
  13.  Beeman, William O. "Humor." Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 9.1 (1999): 103-6.
  14. Binau, Brad A. "Humor Reconsidered." Pastoral Psychology 58.5 (2009): 667-80.
  15. Pack, Sam “Beauty and the Beast”. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological  Association, Philadelphia, December 2, 1998
  16. Boyer, Dominic. "American Stiob." Cultural Anthropology : Journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology 25.2 (2010): 179-221.
  17. Wogan, Peter. "Audience Reception and Ethnographic Film." Visual Anthropology Review : Journal of the Society for Visual Anthropology 22.1 (2006): 14-33.
  18. Carty, John. "You'Ve Got to be Joking." Anthropological Forum : An International Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology and Comparative Sociology 18.3 (2008): 209-17.
  19. Brown, Bryan. "Lighter Side of Grief." Visual Anthropology 22.1 (2009): 30-43.
  20. Pye, Gillian. "Comedy Theory and the Postmodern." Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 19.1 (2006): 53-70.
  21. Scarpetta, Fabiola. "Interactional Context of Humor in Stand-Up Comedy." Research on Language and Social Interaction 42.3 (2009): 210-30.