Appealing to the Classiness Aspiration of Young Men and Women

The Mexican beer Dos Equis has very popular TV ads running right now called "The Most Interesting Man in the World." Watch the 30 second ad here (viewed 800k times on YouTube!) or see the embed below.

The announcer boasts about the most interesting man in the world:

  • The police often question him just because they find him interesting.
  • His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man's entire body.
  • His blood smells like cologne.
  • He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels.

At the end the old man — the most interesting man — says, "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis."

Why does this advertisement work so well?

Seth Stevenson, at Slate, has a masterful analysis. He notes the counter-intuitive but spot-on ambivalence the man has toward the advertised product and the quirky, Wes Anderson-inspired imagery at the beginning.

His most interesting insight has to do with why a senior citizen is advertising an alcoholic beverage aimed to 20-somethings who like to go out on the weekends. Normally, beer ads have beautiful busty women circling the lucky 25 year-old clenching a Bud Light and flashing a wicked smile. The atmosphere feels like a frat party. It's obvious, right? Sex sells. The films hip young people go to are Old School, Wedding Crashers, and most recently The Hangover, right?

But this isn't the whole story when it comes to the emotional buttons of young men (and women).

The Dos Equis ad appeals to "dudes' self-conception, placing the focus on older gents who serve as models of masculinity." The Most Interesting Man wears nice clothes throughout; the women who surround him are similarly examples of elegance, no sluts here; the activities shown are not beer pong or football but sports like jai alai which have a certain high-minded eccentricity about them. Even the label "most interesting" is different than "most cool" or "most popular" — in adult-land, interestingness rules.

The ad, then, appeals to the same aspirational quality that's at work when little children play grown-up. Even into our 20's we're still modeling ourselves after elders we admire — their maturity, self-confidence, and relaxed ambition. And we know that Real Men (and women) don't binge drink on the weekends but rather enjoy a fine adult beverage while munching on cashews.

If marketers spent time on glitzy private college campuses they'd learn that drugs, sex, and alcohol are not the only considerations of the privileged young men and women who attend (and buy expensive beer and other products). If the marketers embedded themselves in Private College X they'd hear the word "classy" mentioned a lot as justification for certain activities. Rich kids like to be classy. They like to buy nicer alcohol, go to dinner parties, and dress up in fancy clothes more than you'd think from just watching Old School. Ramen noodles and a beer while watching the basketball game is not as cool as a three course meal with pricey wine to match, in many cases.

It's easy to be cynical about this phenomenon. Is being classy at this age not, at its core, simply a refined display of your parents' wealth? Is there something fucked up about a 19 year-old buying fine alcohol and dining at Beverly Hills' highest profile restaurants in pursuit of classiness, while a great number of students struggle with loans and night jobs? Sure there is.

But in some sense, who cares? A psychological soft spot ("this will help you be classy") has been identified in a lucrative target market: let's follow Dos Equis' lead and go take their money.

6 Responses to Appealing to the Classiness Aspiration of Young Men and Women

  1. Akshay Kapur says:

    Why most of us can’t see through these commercials baffles me. The machismo, rite of passage, alcohol BS never ceases to end.

    Thanks for putting this up to expose the commercial for what it is.

    I hope you’re being sarcastic with the last paragraph…

  2. Andrew Ator says:

    You’re absolutely right. Genetic therapy for the entire population, ridding ourselves of the compulsion in the first place is the best solution to interesting activities.

    As long as there is want there will be a way to milk it. At that point your only option is truth in advertising. He may not always drink, but Dos Equis helps him forget that he’s just an actor that needs to drink several of them to forget that he doesn’t always get laid, but when he does most of the girls he beds are trashed on Dos Equis.

  3. If only those kids knew that you can’t buy class, and that attempting to do to is the most declasse thing one can do.

    Stephen Fry wrote in his autobiography, MOAB IS MY WASHPOT, about how you could always tell who the kids from real money were – they had the most threadbare clothes, their parents drove the oldest cars, and money was never mentioned. They were so secure in their class status and wealth that it simply did not occur to them for it to be an issue.

    Having nothing to prove is as classy as one can get.

  4. I personally love these ads and have often thought they modeled the character on Richard Branson.

  5. DaveJ says:

    Ha ha, no wonder I didn’t understand this ad when I saw it. Didn’t occur to me that it was targeted at kids (i.e., twentysomethings). Although I didn’t like the ad myself, they are certainly onto something. When I was in college – a long time ago and I didn’t have much money – we sometimes wanted to try the finer things in life.

    “I only rarely drink Mexican beer, but when I do, I prefer Negra Modelo.”

  6. Andre says:

    “You’re absolutely right. Genetic therapy for the entire population, ridding ourselves of the compulsion in the first place is the best solution to interesting activities.”

    And then what would be left? And when you say this, do you mean compulsory genetic therapy? In that case you are scary…california uber alles scary

    “I am Governor Jerry Brown
    My aura smiles
    And never frowns
    Soon I will be president…

    Carter Power will soon go away
    I will be Fuhrer one day
    I will command all of you
    Your kids will meditate in school
    Your kids will meditate in school!

    [Chorus:]
    California Uber Alles
    California Uber Alles
    Uber Alles California
    Uber Alles California

    Zen fascists will control you
    100% natural
    You will jog for the master race
    And always wear the happy face

    Close your eyes, can’t happen here
    Big Bro’ on white horse is near
    The hippies won’t come back you say
    Mellow out or you will pay
    Mellow out or you will pay!

    [Chorus]

    Now it is 1984
    Knock-knock at your front door
    It’s the suede/denim secret police
    They have come for your uncool niece

    Come quietly to the camp
    You’d look nice as a drawstring lamp
    Don’t you worry, it’s only a shower
    For your clothes here’s a pretty flower.

    DIE on organic poison gas
    Serpent’s egg’s already hatched
    You will croak, you little clown
    When you mess with President Brown
    When you mess with President Brown

    [Chorus]”

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