“He’s the life of parties he has never attended.” “He’s won trophies for his game face alone.” And “Sharks have a week dedicated to him.” He’s The Most Interesting Man in the World, he’s the front man for Dos Equis and with over 1.5 million Facebook fans he’s a cultural icon. He’s the driving force behind the emergence of Dos Equis as a major player in the beer category. Sales have increased by 22% since 2006, while other imported beers fell by a total of 4% (Fast Company). For those of us that work in the advertising business, the question is “why?” For that answer I turn to a concept that is simple to understand, yet hard to execute: empathy.
Empathy is the capacity to understand, be aware of, be sensitive to and vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another without [actually experiencing it yourself] (Merriam-Webster). In executing an ad campaign there are two main types of empathy that need to be exercised: first is empathy to the attitudes, interests and opinions of the target market; and the second is empathy to how customers actually use your product. Dos Equis was exceptionally aware of the attitudes and interests of their target market: young men. According to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar: “…men’s conversations seem to be geared as much to advertising as anything else. They talk about themselves or they talk about things they claim to know a lot about. It’s a kind of vocal form of the peacock’s tail.” Through brilliant copywriting and superb use of hyperbole (and great casting), the creative team at Euro RSCG was able to elevate annoying male braggadocio into an art. They used a style that the target market had experienced (a la Chuck Norris quotes) to develop an aspirational campaign for beer that was actually funny. They hit the target market right in the heart and are being rewarded for it…as evidence, see all of the user-generated stories on the Facebook fan page.
The second form of empathy in advertising, how people actually use our products, can be hard to acknowledge; especially in the alcoholic beverage industry. I know… I spent two years on the front lines as a sales person and promotion manager for a beer distributor. Anything that wasn’t one of OUR products was seen as the enemy, especially wine and spirits. The last thing that we wanted was for people to “abandon” beer for wine or spirits. So deep was the fear that the manufacturer distributed manuals on how to try to convince wine and spirit drinkers to switch back to beer. What Dos Equis did was acknowledge that fear and move past it. They realized that today’s drinker isn’t wedded to one brand the way their father’s generation was. The same person may drink Bud Light at happy hour, Tanqueray and tonics at the club and Coronas at the beach. Dos Equis understood this behavior and signed off every ad with “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” In the same fashion that a great ending can elevate a good movie, this tagline elevated an already great campaign to transcendent.
By being the most empathetic brand in the category, Dos Equis has become one of the most successful brands of the last 10 years. Their success has served to shed the light on empathy and the correct use of the tool in advertising. It is only through the clear understanding of the attitudes, interests and beliefs of the target market, as well as how customers actually use your product, that break-through advertising can be created. So whether you’re advertising real estate and energy or shoes and cars, the goal is clear: to become the most empathetic brand in the world. Dos Equis has set the bar. Good luck.By Sean Ruberg