What Every Brand Can Learn From Dos Equis & The Lake Wobegon Effect!


As human beings, we tend to over-estimate our abilities and achievements, particularly in comparison with other people. In other words, we tend to view ourselves as being better than others (smarter, better drivers, more responsible gun owners, better lovers, better marketers, better strategists, etc.) and above average. According to ChangingMinds, “this happens largely because we derive our sense of self-worth in contrast with other people. Thus, rather than considering ourselves ‘good’, we actually seek to be ‘better’.

Ironically the Bell curve challenges this perception, but that’s not the point here.

This phenomenon is (also) called the Lake Wobegon Effect, based on Garrison Keillor fictional Minnesotan town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

One brand that in my opinion perfectly exemplifies the application of the Lake Wogebon Effect to brand management is Dos Equis with its famous, and now retired, campaign “The Most Interesting Man In The World”.

According to the 2009 Effie Gold case study (www.warc.com) two important truths of the brand’s core audience, 20-something males who reportedly drank as many as 12 brands in a month, lead to the creative idea: “First, what these guys wanted more than anything, more than hot girls and designer toys, was to be seen as interesting. And conversely, that they were terrified of being seen as boring”.

In other words this campaign idea tapped into the audience’s belief and self-perception of being “more interesting” than average (other beer drinkers) and its desire to be perceived as such. Welcome to the Lake Wobegon Effect.

The campaign ran for almost ten years and is credited for growing Dos Equis business year after year during this period of time (tripling the size of the business in Canada actually). And it became part of (pop) culture.  Its strength, I believe, is that it did it with a slightly sarcastic sense of humor (and exaggeration) making it easier for the audience to digest and accept the message. A more serious approach would have backfired with today’s more cynical consumer.  For sure.

Heineken, who owns Dos Equis, has decided to retire the campaign this year after a successful run of almost 10 years. So it is going to be interesting what new campaign idea they will come up with and what insights this campaign will be built on.

Another brand that taps into the Lake Wobegon Effect is Advanced Auto Parts in my opinion. Its latest campaign tries to appeal to “car tinkerers”, people who see themselves as more fanatic and better “car tinkerers” than the average car owner.

What brands can learn from Dos Equis & the Lake Wobegon Effect:

We all know that many brands in many categories are purchased mainly because of their social badging value, rather than the functional or emotional benefit they promise. Often, a consumer will associate him/herself with a brand as a way to communicate something about him/herself, usually a better version of oneself, that is also a reflection of how they perceive themselves. This is true for most consumer segments, except maybe for women in general and moms in particular, who generally tend to not view themselves as “better” (as a marketer, you quickly learn to be very careful with generalizations about women and moms).

The question therefore worth asking for most brands is then “how can my brand tap into the Lake Wobegon Effect as a way to differentiate itself from competition and help its consumers feed their self-worth and reflect their self-image? And how can it do so in a way that will not come across as patronizing? ”

Feel free to share your thoughts in the “comments” section below.

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