Mike’s Hard Lemonade trying hard to widen its appeal

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Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 12:00 am

Mike’s Hard Lemonade, the 14-year-old alcohol brand, faces the same challenge that nonalcoholic lemonade brands like Country Time face, namely, enticing consumers to drink lemonade on occasions besides picnics.

A new advertising and marketing campaign by Mike’s, “Never Not a Good Time,” promotes the hard lemonade as a versatile drink for any setting.

One commercial opens in a bowling alley with a man holding a ball.

“Any time’s a great time for a cold, refreshing Mike’s,” says a voice-over.

“Anytime?” responds the bowler, as if the words had been spoken to him, in a commercial entirely in rhyming couplets. “Even now?”

“Even if you were bowling against Martin Landau,” responds the voice-over as, inexplicably, the 84-year-old actor smiles from the next lane. “And a man covered in dirt” — a filthy man approaches — “rubs up on your shirt.”

Another commercial, set in a Japanese restaurant and featuring the rapper Coolio, also juxtaposes rhyming couplets with offbeat humor.

The commercials are by Grey New York, a division of the Grey Group, which is owned by WPP. Tom Kuntz directed, with production by MJZ. It marks the first appearance in a commercial for Landau, according to the brand.

Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which will spend an estimated $15 million to $20 million on the campaign, spent $13.3 million on advertising in 2012, according to Kantar Media, a unit of WPP.

Sweetened ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages go by many names, including flavored malt beverages and progressive adult beverages, and along with Mike’s include offerings like Smirnoff Ice, Bud Light Lime-A-Rita and Four Loko.

Revenues in the category grew 20.2 percent in the 52 weeks ending April 21, according to SymphonyIRI Group, which does not track liquor stores but does track most other outlets where they are sold, including supermarkets and convenience stores. Mike’s, which markets numerous flavors including spiked versions of apple cider and fruit punch, leads the category with a 30.1 percent share.

While meant to appeal to both sexes, the commercials are primarily directed at men ages 25 to 35, with men in the leading roles in both spots, which will appear on male-skewing networks including ESPN, NBC Sports Network and Comedy Central.

Sanjiv Gajiwala, director of marketing for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, said “the classic Mike’s Hard occasion is a backyard barbecue, and we love that occasion but we believe that Mike’s is appropriate many more places than just the backyard.”

The brand aspires to be as versatile as beer, which is why the new commercials are set in beer-familiar settings like a bowling alley.

“We’re looking at a traditional beer consumer, which is a natural fit for Mike’s,” Gajiwala said.

Critics say the sodalike flavors of brands such as Mike’s appeal to underage drinkers, and label the products alcopops. Among underage drinkers from 13 to 20, Mike’s is the eighth most popular alcohol brand, with 10.8 percent reporting consuming it in the previous 30 days, according to a recent report by the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A bill pending in the North Carolina Legislature would restrict the sale of flavored malt beverages to state-run liquor stores, which legislators say are more daunting to underage drinkers than convenience stores and supermarkets.

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