Dos Equis is a brand primarily known for its advertising, notably “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign, featuring the fantastic exploits of a sophisticated older gentleman and a catchphrase—”Stay thirsty, my friends”—that spread through internet meme culture like wildfire.
But according to Heineken USA cmo Jonnie Cahill, being an advertising-led brand wasn’t enough. “That’s a beautiful place to be, and we continue to deliver strong advertising into the market,” he says. “But we also realized we needed to show up more at passion points for people, in the things and the places that matter to them throughout the year, so that they could also experience the brand.”
Enter: the Dos Equis College Football Tailgate Throwdown campaign from the fall, comprised of multiple on-the-ground activations, limited-edition products, university collabs, a broadcast partnership with FOX and a contest in which fans dreamt up their ideal tailgate experiences. We spoke with Cahill about the campaign’s marketing goals and KPIs met; the strategic thinking behind targeting consumers in the Sun Belt region; the brand’s evolving marketing mix; and planned investments for 2024.
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What was the impetus behind the College Football Tailgate Throwdown?
Jonnie Cahill, CMO at Heineken USA: The brand has been historically very famous for its advertising. It was one of those few that, [regarding] its marketing mix, is an advertising-led brand. And that’s a beautiful place to be, and we continue to deliver strong advertising into the market. But we also realized we needed to show up more at passion points for people in the things and the places that matter to them throughout the year, so that they could also experience the brand, as part of the enjoyment of life and those everyday occasions.
Why go with college football?
JC: If we go up a level, our company purpose is the joy of true togetherness. And I don’t know of anything maybe more than college football on Saturdays in the U.S. that represents that. There’s passion in many sports around the world, but it’s passion plus friendship plus joy. It’s a sacred thing.
We saw that the metrics on college football were growing in terms of attendances and engagement, whether it’s Google search, whether it’s viewership of Fox Big Noon kickoff, where we’re a partner, attendances at games, all up—with an ever-more diverse audience as well. Younger, more females, more multicultural—a positive set of trends in the sport. So, combining our desire to drive broad reach and show up at the passion points of consumers, and to an extent our purpose as an organization—bringing people together to celebrate togetherness—it was this perfect, Venn diagram of opportunity.
How do your marketing programs differ now?
JC: If you go back, we used to be a partner of the national championships. That was more advertising-led, where the brand shows up on TV and big moments. We’ve transitioned to that broadcast partnership with Fox plus a more hands-on, activation-led approach to make sure that we’re physically there in those stadiums, at those tailgates and in those bars on Friday nights. And the Tailgate Throwdown celebrated that sense of togetherness at a favorite activity: college football. So much so, that 33 percent of people don’t even go to the game after having been at the tailgate. There’s a cohort who even prefer it.
How long has the brand been moving toward this activation-led strategy?
JC: We’ve been activating for three years, since we leaned in with Big Noon Kickoff and Fox. We’ve been working with them on tours of stadiums, showing up at their Big Noon Kickoff games and activating the brand in those cities and towns where the games are taking place.
And how about the marketing mix? Where are you showing up in that regard?
JC: You’re looking for balance in your brand activation. And because Dos Equis has such high residual awareness, [we] don’t need people to see the logo. We need people to experience the brand and to feel our tone of voice, which is fun and engaging, witty and a little bit mysterious. So, that was partnering with [sports journalist] Charlotte Wilder with Fox on [road trip] tours a year ago, or the Tailgate Throwdown, where we’re offering people the chance to design the ultimate tailgate. [We asked people,] what do you want? Which was terrifying for my brand colleagues and my brand teams. I said, well, we’re going to give them the opportunity to have whatever, and really have some fun with that.
Also, why we’re doing that: When you look at the landscape of college football because of those underlying metrics, it’s a super crowded space, whether that’s Lexus or Cheez-Its or Dr. Pepper or Home Depot, or us. When we are not as big a brand as many of the brands that are activated—Coca-Cola did a huge activation recently, for instance—we have a unique opportunity as a beer brand to bring it to life in the environment of the game. Because we live naturally in that tailgate moment. In a TV ad break, it’s a budget war. And that might not be always a war that we can win. So we want to work harder, try harder, and really do both—the big media deployments, the big partnerships, and those day-to-day experiences on the brand.