“Do you know Juan Valdez?” If you were watching TV in the 80s and 90s, you probably do. Representing Colombian coffee and the small farmers who grow it, Juan Valdez is one of the best-known fictional characters in marketing history.
“Juan Valdez”, a mustachioed Colombian farmer, was created in 1958 to represent the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. An association of over 500,000 small farmers from this country in South America, as opposed to plantation owners, the Federation wanted a way to differentiate their coffee.
Juan Valdez and Colombian Coffee
Specifically, the Federation wanted to be able to distinguish 100% Colombian coffee from that of blended coffee, which used beans from different countries.
By putting a face to the brand, they were able to personalize the coffee-buying experience and create brand recognition for a commodity product. As such, it was a groundbreaking in terms of marketing.
DDB, one of the most famous and influential ad agencies in the world, created the Juan Valdez ad campaign. This is the same agency that gave us the ground-breaking Volkswagen ads of the 60s, the Avis slogan “We Try Harder,” and even Little Mikey of Life cereal ads.
This legendary agency even plays a role in the series Mad Men, being frequently referenced as an envelope-pushing competitor to the show’s fictitious company.
This kind of advertising hasn’t come cheap: since 1960, The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia has spent $600 million on branding.
Juan Valdez, Famous Worldwide
The character Juan Valdez, when he appears in television and print ads, generally is dressed in traditional Andean Colombian clothing, wearing a hat and poncho typical of the region’s attire.
He is also accompanied by his donkey Conchita and sacks of harvested coffee beans. Given the success of the character, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia even changed its logo in 1981 to reflect the images of Juan and his donkey.
Juan has been placed in different situations throughout the years, depending on the purpose of the campaigns. While previously ads showed him picking coffee cherries by hand, modern-day ads often show him in the aisles of the supermarket, donkey in tow, with humorous results.
He is very popular and is one of the most famous Hispanic people. The character has also received its share of parodies over the years, and even figured into the Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty.
The Real Juan Valdez
The “real” Juan Valdez has been portrayed by three people in the campaign’s history: José Duval, a Cuban-American opera singer turned actor; Carlos Sánchez, a Colombian coffee grower who had the role for over 30 years; and Carlos Castañeda, another Colombian coffee grower who took over in 2006.
Nowadays, there are even Juan Valdez coffee shops. Founded in 2002 with the rise of the gourmet coffee shop, there are now 300 worldwide. The uniqueness of these coffee shops is reflected on the varieties they offer, especially in the coffee shops located throughout Colombia.
Here in Manhattan, the Juan Valdez coffee shop I know doesn’t serve any maracuya or lulo coffee. Somthing I can easily find in a Juan Valdez shop in my native Medellín.
If you want to enjoy a real Colombian coffee look for the Juan Valdez coffee brand also available in supermarkets around the world.