The Creators of 4 Meme-Inspiring Ads Discuss the Campaigns That Spawned Them

Adweek caught up with the minds behind several viral sensations

Memes inspired by ads are not uncommon, often extending the reach of campaigns via unpaid media. But it’s hard to predict when an ad might inspire such a viral sensation as the “But That’s None of My Business” Kermit meme or riffs on The Most Interesting Man in the World’s “I don’t always drink beer” line and harder still to try to make it happen. We caught up with the creators of several ads that went on to inspire popular memes.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact starting point for advertising’s influence on internet meme culture, but Havas’ Dos Equis concept, which was conceived by the creative team of Karl Lieberman and Brandon Henderson at what was then Euro RSCG (now Havas) in 2006, is not a bad place to start. If it wasn’t the first, it was certainly one of the biggest. The duo came up with the idea based on the insight that “guys at bars aren’t afraid of being uncool, they’re afraid of being uninteresting,” as they explained to Adweek via email.

According to the site Know Your Meme, the meme inspired by the ad started gaining traction the following year but didn’t really take off until 2009, reaching its peak the next year but enduring in popularity to this day.

The campaign’s initial reception did not indicate its eventual success or ubiquity on the web. In fact, a co-worker was so unimpressed with the work that he told Lieberman and Henderson they would be known as “Team So-So” between their work for Dos Equis and the agency’s Volvo account. The client, too, had reservations, particularly with the now famous line in which the character admits he doesn’t always use the product and also with his age being so far outside the brand’s target demographic.

The campaign didn’t take off overnight, first appearing only regionally. When Lieberman and Henderson interviewed with Wieden + Kennedy a couple years later, they explained, no one there had even heard of it. Its creators were only at Euro RSCG for the campaign’s first three spots or so, although some of the lines they wrote showed up later on.

“If we had stayed there too much longer, we would have ruined it,” they admitted.

Ultimately, the campaign proved a success for the pair at a time when, according to Henderson, they were the “team that would throw in strange ideas that would be immediately killed in meetings.”

Lieberman added that the experience taught him that “if you write about things you know, bend those to the brand, you’ll have a lot more success.”

That doesn’t always mean you can predict what will be successful, though.

“We’re constantly surprised by what does and doesn’t do well,” he added. “We make a lot of stuff that we think is awesome and doesn’t catch on.”

Asked what they thought about Havas’ new most interesting man, played by Augustin Legrand, they said they’re “grateful the thing is still going,” while admitting it’s “hard to follow Sean Connery” in reference to the Bond-like nature of the role.

Following Heineken USA’s decision to move the Dos Equis creative account from Havas to Droga5 without a review, the character’s future is uncertain, but the memes will undoubtedly live on.

Henderson and Lieberman shared some of their favorite takes on the meme, several of which appear below.

‘That’s not how any of this works’

Leo Burnett Chicago executive creative directors Jeff Candido and Brian Shembeda said it “seems like only yesterday” when they created the 2014 “Beatrice” spot for Esurance.

They first became aware that a meme inspired by the ad was making its way around the internet when they were preparing their own GIFs of the “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works” line. There was a lag between the airing of the ad on broadcast TV and the brand uploading it to YouTube. Thinking they’d be the first to create a meme from the ad shortly after it appeared on YouTube, they were surprised to find that people had already made their own GIFs and memes, directly from the broadcast version.