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Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Enduring Power of a Great Idea

October 27, 2009 by David McJivvers · Leave a Comment 

Dos Equis’ campaign for the Most Interesting Man in the World will likely go down as one of the best-liked and most effective campaigns of the year. Indeed, sales rose 17%, while the rest of the category dropped 11%.

While this campaign may be new, the idea of using an aspirational-if-somewhat-ridiculous spokesman is not. Two of David Ogilvy’s most successful campaigns employed a similar technique.

In 1951, the shirt manufacturer C.F. Hathaway Company had been languishing in relative obscurity for 116 years. Their president, Ellerton Jette, approached David Ogilvy and said: “We are about to start advertising. Our account will be less than $30,000 a year. If you will take it on, I will make you a promise: I will never change a word of your copy.”  Jette kept his promise, and sales went through the roof. Ogilvy boasted: “Never has a national brand been built at such a low cost.”

How did they do it? And what made this seemingly ordinary campaign so special? Ogilvy writes:

“As the campaign developed, I showed the model in a series of situations in which I would have liked to find myself: conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, playing the oboe, copying a Goya at the Metropolitan Museum, driving a tractor, fencing, sailing, buying a renoir and so forth.”

We see something similar with the Most Interesting Man. He stars in Jai-Alai, arm-wrestles enemy combatants, leads torchlit expeditions through mountain passes, sword-fights in Asia, catches giant sword-fish while sailing, and frees grizzly bears from traps.

The success of these two similar characters, created more than a half-century apart, is based on the understanding of a simple truth: our planes get faster and our boats get bigger, but the fundamental aspirations of men remain unchanged.

These campaigns appeal to the place where our minds wander on long jogs and car rides, the place we let ourselves drift during daydreams that are forgotten before they’re completed. These characters take something ephemeral, and they give it a face. And a shirt.

Another Ogilvy character, Commander Whitehead, takes a similar approach. Commander Whitehead was the real-life President of Schweppes, a “Schweppesman,” as it were. This post is running long, so I won’t discuss that campaign, though the commercial is worth a watch. Instead, I’ll leave you with a question: Does Commander Whitehead remind you of anyone?

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