The content of advertisements reveals a great deal about a society. They reflect the culture’s attitude towards race, gender, and class, in addition to how individuals are expected to behave in the society. Advertisements are out to sell, and the notion of being relevant to the lives of the audience is paramount in influencing consumers. For this reason, advertisements can so effectively expose characteristics of a civilization’s culture. However, advertisements rarely depict ordinary lives. Rather, they show idealized, embellished models of the attitudes, expectations, and behaviors of the various groups. Characters in advertisements are not everyday people, but rather symbols of how that race, class, or gender is expected to be. This causes an often invisible disconnect between real life and the lives of those depicted in ads. As a result, the idealistic stories told through advertisements end up crafting a society’s culture in addition to merely displaying its attributes.
In the United States, beer has never been considered a high-class product. It has often been portrayed as the beverage of choice for tailgating, barbeques, or spectating stadium sports. Beer is advertised as the beverage for the common or all-American man. Because the image of the typical beer drinker was so consistent, it ended up shaping society’s belief on what the ideal American man should act like. However, in 2006, beer brand, Dos Equis, rolled out a very successful advertising campaign that marketed their product as a high-class beverage. “The Most Interesting Man in the World” was the face of this new take on beer. The incredible success of the beer ad in combination with a changed portrayal of ideal male gender, inadvertently changed society’s perception of how the average beer drinking common man should be behaving. The popularization of this new male symbol has re-popularized the traditional model of what it means to be manly in society. The Most Interesting Man in the World advertisement implicitly argues that the exemplary man is intelligent, well versed in the ways of the world, detached, experienced, irresistible to females, physically capable and ultimately, a high class non-American that seems to be worlds apart from the average Budwiser drinker.
The Dos Equis ad I focused on commences with the Most Interesting Man in an Asian restaurant bench-pressing two female servers each seated in a chair. The Asian onlookers are overwhelmed with delight and the servers giggle with pleasure at the amazing spectacle of strength. The narrator states, “The police often question him just because they find him interesting.” The second scene shows a younger Most Interesting Man arm wrestling Fidel Castro with a crowd of male onlookers. Just as the narrator says, “His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body,” the bearded Most Interesting Man raises his eyebrows in defiance and slams the communist tyrant’s hand to the table. He is then shown back in his old age, setting free a trapped bear. As he waves goodbye the narrator confirms, “His blood smells like cologne.” In the fourth scene he is once again shown as a younger man, aboard a boat, laughing drunkenly with a beautiful woman presumably after catching a large swordfish. The narrator dubs him, “He is the most interesting man in the world.” Finally, he is seen posted between two couples at a table in a mysterious bar. The women are each in their own conversations, yet are clearly more interested in the Most Interesting Man’s presence despite him acknowledging neither of them. Finally, he says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis. Stay thirsty my friends.”
To maximize an advertisement’s emotional and potential in a short thirty-second spot, advertisers rely on subtle references to other texts, narratives, and stories the audience is familiar with. This ad makes its argument to audiences that Dos Equis and the Most Interesting Man are high class, mainly though invoking the emotions of existing cultural stories and linking them to the product. The style and content of the Most Interesting Man in the World link it to existing texts and stories of James Bond and Earnest Hemmingway. These two former icons of high-class, traditional manliness are the driving force behind the argument of the advertisement.
James Bond is one of the most famous characters to ever symbolize the essence of the high class male. Like James Bond, the Most Interesting Man is shown in a variety of locations around the world in a variety of time periods. He is a world-class man able to impress at every stop and destination around the globe. In the Far East his strength astounds an entire restaurant of onlookers. We also learn he has defeated a famous politician in a trial of strength without the slightest doubt or fear. Like James Bond, the Most Interesting Man fits in wherever he goes, a man experienced in the ways of the world can do anything confidently. Also like James Bond he is rarely seen without high-class clothing. Luxury doesn’t define him, but the two men would never be caught without being dressed to impress. In addition, it’s well known that James Bond’s beverage of choice is either a whisky or a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. He is almost never seen drinking beer. Similarly, the Most Interesting Man states at the end of the advertisement, “I don’t always drink beer,” which lines up rather remarkably with the classy action hero. Perhaps the strongest parallel between the two texts is the behavior of women with regard to the two men. James Bond was always able to woo women with merely his presence. In the films, this ridiculous notion turned even his mortal enemies into lovers with little more than a few words and a strong reputation. Yet, his attitude towards them is merely one of mild indifference for what is always a temporary satisfaction. Ultimately, he is independent of his lovers. The Most Interesting Man displays the same effect on women in the advertisements and the same independence. Women like the Asians in the first scene of the ad remind us of lusting ladies Bond chooses to pass up. The gorgeous women in the last scene are seen sitting each with a man who is actively speaking to them, yet, they each are enraptured by the mere presence of the Most Interesting Man next to them. The women raise eyebrows at each other; eager to meet this man despite the lack of acknowledgement he gives to either of them. The remaining woman in the ad is the woman pictured laughing with the Most Interesting Man on the boat. She is portrayed identically to the way James Bond films treat the spy’s numerous one-night stands; that is, his most important ladies. They are captivated by his every word, always by his side and are remarkably loyal despite the mortality rate of his past women. The final link to the texts of James Bond is the style. Many of the scenes look like they were made with dated equipment. Most notably is the scene on the boat where it appears almost to have been shot with a cheap green screen, a technique overused in Bond films to an insulting degree. Even the style of the visuals would lead viewers to link the two texts.
In addition to the element of oldness, there are a number of other characteristics about the advertisement that would also link it to emotions and stories associated with Earnest Hemmingway. The great author was well known as a hunter, world traveler, partygoer, adventurer, and fisherman: a real rambling man. Each scene can be compared back to Hemmingway through one of his attributes. In particular, the ad’s bear rescue scene, where he solemnly and fondly waves goodbye to the bear he just set free, speaks to Hemmingway’s famous wanderlust. The scene of the drunken Most Interesting Man on the boat reminds the audience of Hemmingway too. The ultimate macho-man sportsman: landing a massive marlin, extremely drunk, and joined by a beautiful woman out at sea. It could have been excised straight from a Hemingway novel or simply from the man’s life. However, Hemmingway was also an adulterer, an alcoholic, and suicidal. So how does Dos Equis link only the more positive characteristics of each text to the Most Interesting Man in the World?
The answer lies in the consciousness of the viewer. Unless an audience member stops and thinks about the connections to previously seen texts, they would never decide Dos Equis was drawing from them. Images race by, individual clips last fragments of a second. The viewer has to keep track of what’s going on in the video, the narration; they have to understand time changes and jokes, all quickly flashing by in thirty seconds. And immediately following the closure comes another ad or television programming. There simply isn’t time to consider the intricacies behind the advertisement’s persuasion. But yet a strong message still gets through in just thirty seconds, we still gain a fondness for the Most Interesting Man, and could probably name a dozen more feats he could feasibly perform. Stuart Hall argues humans sort thoughts, memories, and experiences into categories. When a viewer automatically places the Most Interesting Man alongside the same high-class male category as James Bond and Earnest Hemmingway though the connections outlined above, they can’t help but roll over all their strongest existing assumptions and conclusions. These obviously include their overall perceptions and emotions surrounding said people. So despite the flaws featured in the personalities of both Bond and Hemmingway, these are two personalities men predominantly look fondly upon: wishing they could be males of such character. As a result, the Most Interesting Man gets the same model male status as Hemmingway and Bond through the subtle text references.
It is important to note that despite the defining of an idealized high class male, this advertisement is not targeted to high-class individuals. It is actually targeted to the aforementioned common beer drinker. The giveaway lies in the narration, which is essentially repurposing the Chuck Norris Internet meme popular at the time. Just as, “When Chuck Norris jumps in a pool, Chuck Norris doesn’t get wet, the water gets Chuck Norris,” or, “Chuck Norris doesn’t sleep, he waits,” the Most Interesting Man’s “blood smells like cologne.” This subtle link relies on low-class texts to fully interpret the advertisement; though of course it is still funny to those unfamiliar with the original meme. The humor is tuned perfectly so as to not disrupt or tamper with the Most Interesting Man’s legitimacy as a serious high class, experienced individual. The Internet-inspired brand of humor only serves to make the gender role of the high-class male more appealing to everyday beer drinkers.
In making an argument concerning the definition of the ideal man, this Dos Equis ad exploits Sut Jhally’s conventions of gender. Sut Jhally notes in his piece entitled “Image Based Culture,” that characters in advertisements act “not [in] the way that men and women actually behave but the ways in which we think men and women behave”. So despite the fact that most beer advertisements are fairly preposterous, they still hold a power to mold society and culture. Sut Jhally goes on, “Also, images having to do with gender strike at the core of individual identity; our understanding of ourselves as either male or female is central to our understanding of who we are”. The fact that Dos Equis is advertising the product of the masses only adds weight to their portrayals. When Dos Equis created the ideal man for the purpose of selling beer, audiences still saw him as an ideal man. So while beer may be being sold, the remaining effect on general social behavior is far more significant. According to Sut Jhally’s concept, people viewing this advertisement would consider the characters to be acting in ways that we consider exemplary. People would craft their identity, what it means to be a man, based around these new, yet traditional parameters. As a result, the expectations of men in society have changed.
As mentioned initially, advertisements reflect our culture in addition to shaping it. The effects of the Most Interesting Man in the World’s advertising campaign can already be seen reflected back in advertisements that followed. Kettle One, Jameson, and other products have begun marketing with similar high-class males representing or endorsing their products. Dos Equis and the Most Interesting Man in the World have changed the understanding of what it means to be the quintessential male. The Most Interesting Man is perceived to be a high class individual; someone beer drinkers across the United States can aspire to be someday, perhaps by drinking Dos Equis. The notion is echoed by the ad agency: “[The Most Interesting Man is] rich in stories and experiences, much the way the audience hopes to be in the future”. Rather than succumb to the mundane, often idiotic male gender identity portrayed by other beer ads and culture products, the Most Interesting Man would urge men to become James Bonds and Earnest Hemmingways; but most of all he would urge them to “stay classy my friends.”
Further reading: The New Yorker gets to know The Most Interesting Man