I love a good ad campaign.
When I started running a small publishing business years ago, I had to teach myself advertising and marketing. I read some classics on the subject, such as How to Write a Good Advertisement by Victor O. Schwab and Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.
My favorite, though, was Ogilvy on Advertising by the legendary ad man David Ogilvy. This volume made me appreciate what goes into successful ads, and just how hard they are to pull off. It also made me realize that some of the same elements of a good ad can be applied to our stories.
One of my favorite campaigns was “The most interesting man in the world” commercials for Dos Equis beer.
A typical spot featured “vintage film” of this man in various pursuits, while a narrator recited a few facts about him. A few of my favorites:
• He lives vicariously through himself.
• He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels.
• The police often question him, just because they find him interesting.
• He once taught a German shepherd to bark in Spanish.
• When he drives a car off the lot, its price increases in value.
• Superman has pajamas with his logo.
At the end of the commercial we’d see him—now a handsome, older man—sitting in a bar with admiring young people at his elbow. He would look into the camera and say, in a slight Spanish accent, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer Dos Equis.”
And then, at the end of each ad, comes the man’s signature sign off: “Stay thirsty, my friends.”
What was so good about this campaign?
It was risky. Having a graying man as the lead character in a beer ad was, as they say, counter programming.
It was funny without trying too hard. The understated way the deep-voiced narrator extolled the man’s legend was pitch perfect.
It had a complete backstory, revealed a little at a time in the mock film clips.
These are qualities of a good novel, too: risky, in that it doesn’t repeat the same old; a bit of unforced humor is always welcome; and its backstory renders characters real and complex without slowing down the narrative. All that we can learn from “the most interesting man in the world” campaign.
And from the man himself we can learn, as writers, to live life expansively and not just lollygag through our existence. Not waiting for inspiration but going after it, as Jack London once said, “with a club.” Believing, with Jack Kerouac, in the “holy contour of life.”
We ought to be seekers as well as storytellers, a little mad sometimes, risking the pity and scorn of our fellows as we pursue the artistic vision. Then we park ourselves at the keyboard and strive to get it down on the page. Why go through it all? Because the world needs dreams rendered in words.
Writer, keep after it and someday this may be said of you as well: “His charisma can be seen from space. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number.”
Stay thirsty, my friends.
Jim is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Romeo’s Rules, Try Dying and Don’t Leave Me. His popular books on fiction craft can be found here. His thrillers have been called “heart-whamming” (Publishers Weekly) and can be browsed here. Find out more about Jim on our Resident Writing Coach page, and connect with him on Twitter.