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Dos Equis is replacing the actor who plays the Most Interesting Man in the World as the beer brand makes major changes to what is widely viewed as one of the best ad campaigns of the 21st century.
Jonathan Goldsmith, who has played the character since the campaign launched in 2006, is making a final appearance in an ad that debuts Thursday evening. The 77-year-old actor is shown headed for a one-way trip to Mars, leaving the impression that the character will never come back. He delivers his classic line "Stay Thirsty My Friends" aboard a rocket ship, as the campaign's familiar voiceover states that "his only regret is not knowing what regret feels like." Before he takes off, he bids farewell to characters who have appeared with him in previous ads over the years.
But while Mr. Goldsmith might be heading into outer space, the campaign will remain. New ads slated for the fall will feature a new actor in the starring role, executives from Dos Equis parent Heineken USA said in interviews. They declined to indentify the new star, or share details about ad plotlines, other than to say they are seeking to contemporize the campaign. One goal is to align the ads better with the brand's new sponsorship of the College Football Playoff.
"There will be a hand-off of sorts -- one day it won't just be somebody new," said Andrew Katz, VP of marketing for Dos Equis. The campaign "will feel familiar, but it will be different," he said. "There will be elements that are very, very recognizable, that are super iconic to us, but it will have a very fresh take on things. It will not feel like we've just swapped actors."
The brand is sticking with Havas Worldwide New York, which originally created the campaign when the agency was known as Euro RSCG.
Dos Equis' deal with the College Football Playoff will begin this fall. The multiyear deal pact will become a major part of the brew's marketing.
"If you just plug the current campaign in the context of college football, there is something there missing," said Heineken USA Chief Marketing Officer Nuno Teles. The current version of the campaign is "looking backwards," he added. "You need something a bit more contemporary and something a bit more in today's world."
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Indeed, the campaign in its current form is an odd fit for a mainstream sport like football. Ads have featured the man engaging in offbeat pursuits like running with the bulls and traveling through exotic locales in scenes that use grainy footage to depict years gone by.
The switch comes as Mr. Goldsmith is embroiled in a real-world legal dispute with a talent management firm that alleges it is owed commissions from the actor. Mr. Goldsmith, who disputes the allegations, recently filed a countersuit alleging that the firm, Gold Levin Talent, violated a confidentiality agreement in the lawsuit, which revealed Mr. Goldsmith's potential earnings of $1.07 million in 2016. The suit "jeopardized his future as the spokesman for Dos Equis beer," Mr. Goldsmith's countersuit argued.
But Mr. Katz said the legal skirmish did not play a role in the brand's decision to change actors. "We are incredibly grateful to [Mr. Goldsmith] for his contributions to the brand, and that appreciation absolutely remains undiminished by any personal legal matters that he has," he said. "We decided some time ago that it is time for us to evolve the campaign and that's exactly what we are doing."
The brand began considering its options more than a year ago, executives said. Everything was on the table, including making changes, keeping it the same or scrapping it entirely, said Mr. Telles, who assumed the U.S. CMO role two years ago after running Heineken marketing in Brazil. "We still have the number one campaign in the beer industry and it is a big responsibility when you have the number one campaign to figure out what to do next."
Research revealed that "we could go further with the campaign -- if we would become more active" and "more present-day," Mr. Telles said. The brand also wants to create more digital content that matches the media consumption habits of the new generation of young-adult drinkers.
As it plotted the new course, Heineken executives consulted with people who have worked on the James Bond movie franchise, which has put several leading men in the Bond role without diminishing the Bond brand. (Heineken has a working relationship with the Bond franchise via marketing deals for its flagship Heineken brand.)
While the essence of the Bond character has remained, "some of the character traits have changed" as new actors stepped into the role, Mr. Katz said. "James Bond always goes and orders a martini -- but so much of what happens around that is new and different."
Of course, swapping an actor in a movie franchise that comes out with new films every few years is much different than shifting gears in a campaign that runs on TV year-round. Considering Mr. Goldsmith's age, some sort of eventual change was inevitable. Still, casting a new actor in the role is a potentially risky move because viewers are so used to seeing Mr. Goldsmith's successful inaugural version.
The actor has become so identifiable with the character that he is recognized routinely by strangers, he said in a 2012 interview.
He landed Dos Equis gig in 2006. He spent a good portion of his his earlier career as a journeyman actor appearing in hit shows in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, including "Bonanza," "Hawaii Five-O," "Knight Rider" and "Dallas."
"Basically it was just a cattle call," he said in the 2012 interview, recalling his Dos Equis tryout. "I got into the room, and there were hundreds of people and a big crowd waiting outside, and everybody looked like Juan Valdez. And I said 'This is crazy -- they are not looking for me.' I went in when it was my turn and all I could think about was 'My God, I've got to move my car by 4 o'clock or I'm going to get a massive ticket.' "
But Mr. Goldsmith, who modeled the character after an old sailing buddy, quickly made the part his own. He described his character as "every guy's fantasy," whose old-world charm and "rustic elegance" contrast with today, when "the days of gentlemen and chivalry are long since gone."
The use of an older protagonist broke the traditional advertising conventions of beer ads, which have tended to use younger leads. The logic was that young adult male beer drinkers would not "see him as a threat or as a reminder of accomplishments they hadn't achieved yet," former senior brand director Paul Smailes said in a 2012 interview. He "needed to be someone to work toward, vs. a mirror of themselves."
It worked: Dos Equis sales more than doubled between 2006 and 2011. The Mexican import is still growing today, with sales up 10.2% in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 21, according to IRI. But Dos Equis has not matched the recent scorching sales pace of competitors Corona and Modelo Especial, which grew by 14.2% and 25.3% respectively in that time period.
Mr. Goldsmith's farewell ad will debut Thursday night on TNT during the Los Angeles Lakers-Cleveland Cavaliers game. The spot will run through Cinco de Mayo, which is a key drinking holiday for Dos Equis. Concurrently, the brand will run a digital campaign in which it gives away artifacts collected by the Most Interesting Man during the adventures portrayed in the ads.
Throughout the summer Dos Equis marketing will focus on a new packaging design. The Most Interesting Man campaign will then return in the fall with the new actor as part of the college football campaign.