It's an unusually warm january day in Los Angeles, and Jonathan Goldsmith looks pretty uncomfortable in a turtleneck, wool sweater, thick black pants and ski boots.
But when the cameras roll he is instantly cool, smiling and laughing as if he's at a cocktail party - not a TV-commercial shoot in a back lot at Universal Studios. With only a thin cable for a harness, Mr. Goldsmith skids down a 15-foot-high wooden structure filled with fake snow to look like a ski jump. He nails it. "Like the wind," he says at the bottom.
After all, when you are The Most Interesting Man in the World, everything comes easily. Or at least it looks as if it does.
In reality, Mr. Goldsmith's stardom -- and the rise of the Dos Equis beer brand he represents -- did not come easily. Both are success stories decades in the making. Mr. Goldsmith, 73, a longtime journeyman actor but never a star, is now so big that Michael Jordan recently asked to have his picture taken with him.
And Dos Equis, once a low-profile brand sold mostly in Texas and California, has become the country's sixth-largest imported beer. The surge is largely attributable to the James Bond-meets-Ernest Hemingway character Mr. Goldsmith plays, who is so revered that , as one ad says, "if he were to pat you on your back, you would list it on your résumé."
As the campaign enters its sixth year, Ad Age sat down with Mr. Goldsmith and the Dos Equis team to talk about their success while getting a behind-the-scenes look at the production of new spots that will roll out this month. With a few new wrinkles that include exposing The Most Interesting Man's "dark side," the commercials seek to maintain momentum for Dos Equis, which gained 15.4% in U.S. shipments last year, vs. 2.7% average growth for the top 10 imports, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.
The breakthrough has provided a much-needed star brand to complement Dos Equis importer Heineken USA's flagship Heineken lager, whose shipments are down 20.5% since 2006, according to Beer Marketer's.
In the beginning, Dos Equis had no idea it would have such a big hit on its hands. The campaign's first ads were originally aired in a few select markets in the West. And Mr. Goldsmith certainly didn't know what he was getting into the day he auditioned for the part in 2006.
"Basically it was just a cattle call," he said. "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. " "
What Dos Equis was looking for was a lead actor for a campaign that would break the beer-advertising mold. While so many spots featured fancy cars, hot babes or exotic locations, the Dos Equis team discovered that "more than anything else, [drinkers] really wanted to be seen as interesting by their friends," said Senior Brand Director Paul Smailes.
Rather than cast a young actor, Dos Equis went with an older, worldly protagonist. The logic was that the target of young men would not "see him as a threat or as a reminder of accomplishments they hadn't achieved yet," Mr. Smailes said. He "needed to be someone to work toward, vs. a mirror of themselves."