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.

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