My claim to fame: This piece was first published on Blogcritics.org in 2010, which in turn syndicated it to the Seattle PI newspaper, where it featured on the front page.
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Every once in a while, advertisers, even creators of TV commercials, create something that transcends the genre and becomes art.
Meet The Most Interesting Man in the World. Suave, sophisticated and entirely fictional; a man’s man, an amalgamation of Hemingway, 007 and Salvador Dali, with a touch of Chuck Norris.
A series of TV commercials promoting a certain brand of beer use as their spokesperson a man who is much too sophisticated to be a beer drinker. Well, most of the time. As he informs us, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”
He dishes out advice on everything from self-defense (“the right look should suffice”) to rollerblading (“no”), in a nightclub-like setting, always surrounded by beautiful women. The campaign was designed by marketing firm Euro RSCG, which created a whole mythology surrounding The Interesting One.
We’re told that he’s the only man to ever ace a Rorschach test, that his blood smells like cologne and that his personality is so magnetic, he’s unable to carry credit cards. We see him traveling the world, conversing with royalty and escaping from danger, always with a beautiful woman or two by his side.
The genius of the campaign lies in the subtle blend of unapologetic 1960s ideas of manliness with absurd humor. In once scene, The Most Interesting Man in the World, impeccably dressed, frees a grizzly bear from a trap with his bare hands. In another, we see him climbing out of a space capsule after splashdown, and in yet another with a host of beauty pageant contestants in a small boat.
There is no context, no explanation, just scenes from a life well lived, including flashbacks to his youth, grainy and yellowish. The mythology that is created is extensive; there’s even a meta-mythology: “The things you have heard about me, are all true.” Fake Spanish accent and all.
The art in this case comes from the elaborate universe that is conjured into being, based on our common cultural memes of Zorro, James Bond, The Saint, Indiana Jones and all the other over-the-top and sophisticated male heroes from books and movies, men of action and joie de vivre. Men we aspire to be.
Beer commercials are usually targeted at young men, and this is another side to the genius of this particular campaign. Not only does it appeal to young women as well as men, but even for the intended audience of young males these ads stand out from the rest. The Most Interesting Man in the World is superbly confident, obviously successful and a clearly a role model. He’s not trying to impress anyone; he doesn’t need to. Nor is he drinking for courage: As one ad put it, “He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels.”
Inventing a fictional celebrity allows you to get away with paying the portraying actor a lot less than you would a real celebrity, and you’re not exposed to waning popularity or scandals. You control not just the current narrative, but everything leading up to it, as well as, of course, the future. You also get to neatly sidestep the issue of how to get a man who’s obviously too sophisticated to shill for a mass market product like beer to do just that. After all, everything about this man tells us he drinks booze, and the good stuff at that.
According to People magazine, the interesting man behind The Most Interesting Man in the World is actor Jonathan Goldsmith. He’s a bit of a real life Renaissance man, a self-made millionaire businessman and longtime TV actor who lives on a boat in Los Angeles.
He shares our hero’s sophistication and dashing good looks, but is somewhat more humble and soft-spoken. When asked about being The Most Interesting Man in the World, he quickly corrects the interviewer. “I’m the actor who is lucky enough to play him.”
After seeing all the TV commercials and reading about our Man, I’m left with a pressing question: Is the beer any good? I’ve never tried it myself, but from what I’ve read elsewhere, let’s just say the reviewers weren’t overly impressed. A pity.