When Dos Equis sent Jonathan Goldsmith's version of the Most Interesting Man in the World on a one-way trip to Mars earlier this year, the brand solved a semantical problem: By launching him into the stratosphere, it cleared the way for a new character to seize the mantle of the most interesting man in the world -- i.e. Earth.
But whether or not the revamped campaign comes close to replicating the success of the original classic is very much an open question. Heineken USA took the first steps on the risky marketing journey on Wednesday by launching a teaser spot featuring the new character, who is played by a relatively unknown French actor named Augustin Legrand.
At first glance, it appears Dos Equis has mostly stuck to the same script. The new guy looks a lot like the old guy, just about 30 years younger. And he engages in the kind of quirky exploits that made Mr. Goldsmith's version famous -- like retrieving a soccer ball from a well.
But Heineken USA executives say that as the campaign evolves, several significant differences will emerge. For one, the brand is trying to contemporize the role that women play in the spots. In the old ads, females merely fawned over the man. Often dressed in sexy cocktail dress outfits, they hung on him as he delivered his signature line -- "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis."
"The women will play a more active role in the storytelling," said Andrew Katz, Heineken USA's VP-marketing for Dos Equis. "In the past they were very passive, they were just there, and I think now they will be more central to some of the stories we tell."
In the teaser, a mysterious woman appears at the end. Could there be a Most Interesting Woman in the World role? "Right now there is not, but there will be many interesting women that he encounters along his journey," Mr. Katz said.
Another difference is that the entire campaign will play out in the present time. The old spots relied on footage of a younger version of the man, suggesting a bygone era, with some current-day scenes sprinkled in. The storytelling will change "from a guy who is looking back on his life to a guy who is living life right now in real time," Mr. Katz said.
An upcoming spot will even make a reference to the College Football Playoff, making use of Dos Equis' new sponsorship deal with the event, whose brand deals are overseen by ESPN.
The full reveal of the new character will come in an ad that will debut on Oct. 19, purposely timed with the period when the playoff race heats up. The launch will be supported by social integrations on Snapchat, including a sponsored national lens. The campaign's agency is Havas Worldwide, which oversaw the old spots. But Heineken USA turned to new production agencies, using Traktor and Rattling Stick. The old spots were shot by Steve Miller of Radical Media.
"It makes more sense for this character to be embracing college football than chapter one of the campaign," Mr. Katz said. "It enables us to go do new things because he is acting in the current era," he added. "We want to be topical, and I think that's the big shift."
But relying on the present era is a risky move. After all, the old spots were powered by allusions to far-off places and times, featuring exploits such as sword-fighting and running with the bulls. In a 2012 interview with Ad Age, Mr. Goldsmith 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 brilliance of the original campaign was that you could imagine these stories being told at a bar about 'this guy I heard about once.' Know what I mean? The idea of it happening in real time is so ordinary," an agency executive who was involved in the original campaign said about the new approach.
Another secret to the success of the original campaign was Dos Equis' willingness to break with beer advertising conventions of casting young men in the leading roles. Mr. Goldsmith was 77 when he appeared in his final ad that debuted earlier this year.The logic was that young men 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."
At age 41, Mr. Legrand is closer in age to the drinkers that Dos Equis targets than Mr. Goldsmith ever was. The upside of his relative youth is that it increases the odds that he will be available to play the role for many years. Heineken USA has not explicitly said why it parted ways with the older Mr. Goldsmith. Mr. Katz simply called it a "business decision." He added: "We are trying to reboot the campaign for people who want to feel like it's their own version of the Most Interesting Man in the World."
In searching for the new actor, "we cast a very wide net," he said. "We were not looking for a particular age. What we were looking for was a person who could really embody the role of the Most Interesting Man and tell the story we want to go tell now," Mr. Katz said.
Heineken USA executives have repeatedly said they modeled the switch after the James Bond movie franchise, which has routinely swapped in leading role actors. But that is easier said than done.
"They have an unenviable task and I think their reference to James Bond is an interesting one," said Christian McMahan, who was chief marketing officer at Heineken USA from 2008 to 2010. "Is this going to be a successful evolution like Daniel Craig or are we looking at the next Timothy Dalton? It's hard for any of us to say at this point. The consumer will ultimately decide."
Mr. Legrand is a relatively unknown actor -- at least in the U.S. -- just like Like Mr. Goldsmith was when he won the role. His recent movie credits include an appearance in a film titled "Anna," which debuted in 2015 at the Stockholm International Film Festival, according to IMDB. He has traits beyond his acting resume that appealed to Dos Equis, including Spanish-speaking skills. The teaser ad includes Spanish dialogue. Future spots will contain a mixture of English and Spanish, Mr. Katz said.
Mr. Legrand also owns several farm-to-table restaurants, Mr. Katz said. In France, Mr. Legrand has a reputation as a left-wing activist on behalf of the homeless. In 2006 he organized an effort to install 100 red tents on the banks of the Seine river to gain attention for the homeless problem in France, according to the Independent. In 2009, he was elected as a regional councillor for Ile-de-France for the Europe Ecology-Green Party, the Independent reported. He's also a voice against what the French call "la malbouffe" -- bad food, as in processed, American-style junk food or fast food.
"He's a man of the world," Mr. Katz said of Mr. Legrand. "He is a traveler. He is somebody who embraces different cultures and different cuisines." Mr. Katz couldn't resist adding one more descriptor of Mr. Legrand: "He doesn't always drink beer, but when he does he prefers Dos Equis -- that was also an important thing for us."
So what does he drink? "You'll have to ask him," Mr. Katz said.
Contributing: Angela Doland