I am in a bar in the West Village with my husband, daughter, and nephew. My husband David gets up to order a drink in the other room. "It's happening again," he tells us when he returns.
That's all he has to say. We know the rest. At the bar, there will have been stares and whispers. Invariably, as they did that night, someone will come over to ask my husband if he's "that guy" and want to take a picture with him. He has yet to turn down a photo opp.
At a recent meeting attended by hundreds of attorneys, my husband's buttoned-up law firm puts up two photos side by side on the massive screen. One is of my husband and the other is that guy.
And last summer, on Nantucket, our family is listening to a band playing at a packed brewery. All of a sudden, the lead singer stops mid-song and says, "We are honored to have in the crowd with us the Most Interesting Man in the World." People turn as he points his mic at my husband.
Dozens of times -- in San Francisco, Houston, New York, Nantucket, and Chicago, in airports, elevators, bars, restaurants, on subways and the street, and last night, at a professional basketball game in Boston -- David has been stopped and asked if he is The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis beer commercials. Although he's more than ten years his junior, a wee 63 year-old boomer, my husband looks remarkably like the actor.
And that suits David just fine. After all, The Most Interesting Man in the World is sophisticated and adventurous. He drops from helicopters into igloos and hosts rambunctious cougars (the animal, not the older women who hook up with younger guys) in his kitchen. Did I mention the beautiful women on his arm?
My husband is not a poser. He doesn't say he is Mr. Dos Equis, and always gives his real name. He has been known, though, to toss out, "Stay thirsty, my friend" to star-struck gawkers. When pressed, he always admits he is a mere lowly lookalike.
The truth doesn't stop him from having his favorite one-liners from the ads: "I once had an awkward moment just to see what it felt like" and "His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man's entire body."
The message is that if you drink Dos Equis, you, too, will be cool like the guy in the ad.
How refreshing! In a society that only seems to celebrate the young and dismisses the old, these advertisers have chosen to build a campaign around a septuagenarian with a gray beard and laugh lines--not a hottie in his 20s or 30s.
Rather than assume an older person is over the hill and no longer has what it takes, Dos Equis made its man an object of desire for women, and someone men want to emulate.
And many of his fans happen to be young.
Age as benefit
What makes The Most Interesting Man so appealing is his experience, knowledge and wisdom, all gained from living a long life. These positive qualities are acquired by aging, a concept that has had little value in the marketing world.
Instead, advertisers usually target a younger demographic with, say, a buff, boyish male model wearing tight jeans and no shirt.
If there is a product for older people, it is likely to involve retirement (doom and gloom, you haven't saved enough) or erectile dysfunction (you're old, so see, you can't perform).
Dos Equis has chosen to show a different face of aging, someone who is sexual, fun and vital. The ads have received a grand reception from viewers; there are pages and pages on Google with Dos Equis commercial witticisms and life-size cardboard cutouts on eBay of the real McCoy.
Have we turned the corner with stereotypes of clueless older people? Is this the beginning of multi-layered depictions and a better understanding of the wide range of boomers and seniors? Is ageism dying?
A 2012 campaign for Toyota Venza showed older parents biking with their friends, getting a puppy or clubbing while their millennial age children assumed the folks were going to bed early and missing out on life. That's a start.
The creative ranks of agencies, which are typically made up of Gen Xers and Millennials, could use more boomers. No doubt they would change the script rather than play it safe.
At the very least, there are financial incentives for an advertising shift: the 50-plus group has $2.4 trillion in annual income, or 42% of all after-tax income; the 55-plus demographic controls more than three-quarters of America's wealth; and 55-64 year-olds outspend the average consumer in almost every category. The buying power of 78 million boomers, the oldest who turn 68 next year, will likely flip the TV picture from black and white to grey.
But my husband isn't thinking about advertising dollars or his important faux role in transforming how older people are perceived. He's thinking it's funny that he's repeatedly mistaken for The Most Interesting Man in the World.
That part of the story is compelling, feel-good fiction: The fans believe they've had a brush with fame, the Dos Equis folks have a winner on their hands while debunking ageism, my husband gets a good chuckle, and even I make out. Not only do I have a new man in my life without having to stray, but he happens to be more interesting than I even knew!
I'll drink to that!