No matter how interesting or curiously strong an idea, popular culture stays thirsty.
October 24, 2011
Driving my daughters home the other day, I had on a sports radio channel (much to their chagrin) and it featured a Dos Equis commercial for The Most Interesting Man in the World. Everyone knows the advertising campaign, done by Euro RSCG in New York. When it first came out, this witty, unexpected idea took the world by storm, garnering much deserved praise from Adland as well as from everyone else with ears and eyes. Among its many virtues, The Most Interesting Man in the World was so unlike anything else in its category. While Miller Lite and Bud Light kept trying to make three dudes on a couch funny, Dos Equis eschewed all that in favor of an urbane, older rogue living a robust life of magnanimous proportions. A man of action, he spoke little but when he did it was fantastic: “I don’t always drink beer but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.” And the kicker: “Stay thirsty my friends!” Brilliant.
But… half way through the 60-second spot, my 12-year-old daughter makes a comment from the back seat: “The most interesting man doesn’t seem so interesting anymore.”
Excluding the much-deserved praise, I won’t criticize advertising done by my previous agency. Yet my kid’s observation made me curious: When does something get old? We are all familiar with the term, “jumping the shark” pointing to an exact time and place something heretofore wonderful becomes suddenly not. The term was coined over an episode of Happy Days. In it, a water-skiing Fonzie jumps a shark too prove his cool. Game over. Happy Days were no longer here again.
But many great things don’t implode so obviously. Rather they fade away like a summer romance. Something changes and we move on. More important things replace the cute lifeguard.
There’s a great episode of the Simpson’s where Bart becomes famous for one of his catch phrases: “I didn’t do it.” The whole world, Springfield anyway, seizes upon its boyish exuberance. Everyone in town begins using the line to get out of blame and then just for a laugh. “I didn’t do it” gets plastered on tee-shirts. Bart goes on Conan. Soon, however, everyone gets sick of the line, including Bart. His fame dies and he learns how transient such things are.
Despite its ever-growing legions of critics, we must note, ironically, that even after 20 years the Simpson’s franchise keeps chugging along.
Everything else has an expiration date, a point where the content isn’t good and/or appreciated anymore. Unfortunately, most people, places and things don’t realize this until it’s too late. Just ask Michael Jordan or Brett Farve. Look at certain long running TV shows. When Desperate Housewives first aired we were captivated. Now its stars are more famous for their real botched romances and, indeed, real housewives have become more popular. Ad campaigns are no different. After more than ten years my beloved “curiously strong” Altoids campaign is anything but. It may be sad but it is inevitable. One day something is “curiously strong” or “the most interesting” and then it isn’t.
Back in the day, when creatives presented ideas the question was always asked: Does it have legs? We’d answer in the affirmative, showing dozens of executions based on the core idea. But maybe all that that proved was we could beat a dead horse. Popular culture doesn’t like repetition. Familiarity breeds contempt. The moral: Try something else, my friends!