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Marketing 101

Jonathan Goldsmith is probably not a name you’ll recognize right away, but I suspect you’ll know his face. He’s an actor that you have no doubt seen a thousand times. Beginning in the 1960s, he was a regular “unnamed character” in shows like Perry Mason, Gunsmoke and Star Trek, all while he supported himself between acting gigs working for the New York City Department of Sanitation. Though most of his work is for TV, he also appeared in several movies. From Hang ‘em High to Go Tell The Spartans and Ice Station Zebra, you’d see his handsome, craggy face, usually as one of the bad guys. By the 80s and 90s, he was working regularly in shows like Dallas, Murder She Wrote and Highway To Heaven. For the last few years, you’ll probably recognize him as The Most Interesting Man In The World, who’s tag line was always, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” Finally, he’d close with “Stay thirsty my friend.”

It seems Jonathan is out of work again, something that happens to all actors pretty regularly. The marketing people at Heineken (the folks who own Dos Equis) have decided that, “The story needs to evolve” to maintain interest for millennials. What a terribly sad mistake this is.

To be frank, Dos Equis is a rather ordinary Mexican lager at a low price point with an absolutely outstanding marketing ploy that launched in 2006. Dos Equis came oh so close to knocking the King of Beers, Budweiser off of their throne. While other imports barely stayed afloat in a mainly domestic beer world, Dos Equis pushed sales up by nearly 35% through last year, according to People magazine.

What was it about Jonathan, this Brooklyn native that sold the brand so well? He oozes authenticity. The slightly over-the-top Spanish accent notwithstanding, his ease and off-hand style make him look like someone who really IS the most interesting man in the world. Anyone with a brain knows he doesn’t really chase the bulls in Pamplona, nor does his business card simply say, “I’ll call you.” That’s all part of the humor surrounding this character. Millennials were reacting to his über-cool personality. Spend some time on social networks and you will no doubt see the meme, “I don’t always ______, but when I do, I prefer _____.” It’s the millennials writing that stuff.

Designing the imaging for the big dog in the number one market for 30 years taught me that being totally aware of what drives your potential audience is fundamental to success. While it’s true that millennials tend to have a short attention span, they do NOT react well to any type of hype. What made the Dos Equis campaign so successful was it’s authentic feel while telling an outrageous joke. Jonathan Goldsmith was the perfect actor for that role. I would say that finding a pitchman like Jonathan who doesn’t feel like a pitchman is extremely rare. I wish nothing but success to the people at Heineken. I hope whatever campaign they come up with serves them well, but tossing The Most Interesting Man In The World just feels like a bad move.

On the radio, a recent development at Z100 has some people scratching their heads. Over the last couple of years, Z100 has been playing with a third voice in the imaging. At first they hired Graeme Judd and began to phase my voice out of the bulk of the imaging, particularly in sweepers and stagers. But after a few weeks, it was generally felt that his voice was too light, too off-the-cuff. When we would write attitude sweeps, he came off sounding stuck-up or conceited. Slowly, we backed off the third voice. When Mark Medina took over as PD, I convinced him that if we were going to have a third voice, it should be his. His attitude sweepers sounded great and fairly quickly, he dominated the sweepers and stagers with Kelly Doherty.

During this whole period, Z100’s ratings got to be a bit wobbly. We didn’t tank or anything, but it was getting tense. We weren’t seeing the total domination, particularly in our target demo that we had gotten used to. After I left the station a few months ago, just a few weeks after JJ Kincaid departed for Denver, the ratings got worse. (I know, you think I’m leading up to how important I was/am to the imaging, but there are SO many other factors including JJ leaving, I couldn’t possibly make that leap.) A few weeks ago, Mark resumed his duties as ONLY the PD and NOT a third voice. I spent a few tense days voicing and producing a big pile of sweepers and stagers to completely erase the whole “third voice” from the station and go back to the way it’s been for so many years.

In the book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout, we learn that there are imaginary ladders in the marketplace. In radio those ladders would be formats. There’s a CHR ladder, a News-Talk ladder, an AC ladder, a Country ladder and more. Once someone has claimed the top rung of that ladder, the ONLY way a contender can take that leading position is if the station on top makes a mistake. Like a ladder, if someone wants to go higher than you, you have to step aside for a moment and basically LET them go by.

In every market where the top spot has been lost by a heritage station to a relative newcomer, somewhere there was a mistake made by the old top dog. A classic example is losing a morning show to the station across the street. In those cases, management grew complacent about their team or personality, making an easy argument for the competitor to make for switching. Bigger money, better benefits, promises of billboards and TV time, sometimes a corner office with a view all sound pretty compelling to someone who is feeling ignored.

Very often it is reacting to the competition that does the heritage station in. “They’re doing a commercial free summer? WE’LL do a commercial free summer!” Bad move cookie. Never lose sight of the fact that it’s NOT the music that drives listenership, it’s always the compelling programming. Funny personalities, exciting contests and promotions, interesting features and engaging imaging sells your station, not the music. Everybody is playing the same music. Some artists show up on multiple ladders, like Taylor Swift is huge in CHR, AC and Country. It’s the stuff that happens between the songs that sets you apart from the other guy.

If you are at the top of your ladder, don’t move your big, fat butt for anyone. Pepsi has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades trying to unseat Coca-Cola from the top of the Cola ladder. Coke really screwed up when they lost their collective minds and played with the formula, introducing “New Coke.” The new flavor tasted a lot like Pepsi, I suspect because their research people feared Pepsi was gonna take over the lead. Fortunately for them, they saw the handwriting on the wall and restored the original flavor before Pepsi could pass them by. In all this time, after all those dollars spent, Coke is still the top cola dog.

Like Coca-Cola, Z100 played with the formula. I was reluctantly a part of that, so I bear at least some responsibility. Like Heineken, Z100 wanted to “evolve” the story to stay in tune with the millennials, but now they’re backpedaling a bit to regain some equilibrium. What ‘was’ was working and as the old trope goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it.”

Is there a lesson in this for Dos Equis? Time will tell. Stay thirsty, my friend.

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