Source: WARC Awards for Effectiveness, Entrant, Instant Impact, 2021
Downloaded from WARC
Mike’s Hard Lemonade: Hard Party Prime Minister
A campaign by Mike’s Hard Lemonade (MHL), an alcoholic drink company, in Canada, successfully
launched a new range of seltzer drinks through the use of a pretend election.
MHL realised that hard seltzers were becoming a trend in Canada amongst young people, moving
away from other alcoholic drinks.
To increase awareness and sales, MHL ran a campaign alongside the Canadian federal
elections, in which people could run to be honorary president of MHL’s hard seltzers.
Running candidates took the campaign surprisingly seriously and effectively marketed the
campaign amongst themselves on social media.
As a result of the campaign 68,000 six-packs of seltzer were sold, at least 390,000 impressions
were generated overall, and for each dollar spent on the campaign, MHL earned $29.
Brand: Mike’s Hard Lemonade
Brand owner: Mike’s Hard Lemonade
Entrant company: FCB Canada, Toronto
Media: Vizeum Canada, Toronto
PR: Veritas Communications, Toronto
Sector: Pre-mixed drinks
Media channels: Online video, Social media
Budget: Up to 500k
Mike’s Hard had been sitting pretty for the better part of a decade – the last time it advertised in Canada, there
really was no social media. Now, the category was suddenly exploding, and Mike’s had to quickly get 20-
something Canadians to engage with and care about the brand. We did have a new product launch to give the
brand some news, but Mike’s was an unknown, or at best, a forgotten brand.
So we decided to seize on a moment that wasn’t, at first glance, a natural fit for Mike’s Hard: the 2019 Canadian
Federal Election. We created our own political party – The Hard Party – and set out to find our first PM through
an advocacy-based engagement campaign. The craziest part though? It worked. Young dudes took the contest
extremely seriously, vying to become the Hard Party Prime Minster, and our organic conversation took on a life
of its own.
We set up Mike’s Instagram account and launched a campaign that drove the type of engagement and brand
love that the world’s biggest brands only dream about – turning new consumers into advocates. We efficiently
drove trial and engagement, resulting in a ROI of $29.
Market background & objectives
From beer to wine to spirits, alcohol consumption is declining across the board as one in five drinkers is
reducing the amount of alcohol they drink.1 But there’s one segment that stands apart: the Ready To Drink
(RTD) alcoholic beverage category. From 2018 to 2019, RTD was the only alcoholic segment to see an
increase in consumption year over year (Chart 1). After a slump in interest, pre-mixed beverages were suddenly
But Mike’s Hard – the brand that basically invented the RTD category in the late 90s – was missing out. The
brand hadn’t done any advertising or product innovation in Canada for the better part of a decade, and needed
to catch up, fast.
Labatt quickly put its innovation arm to work, and within six months had a new product to launch – Mike’s
HardER Sparkling Water. With 7% ABV (compared to the category norm of 4%), and 0 grams of sugar, Mike’s
Hard was ready to rejoin the party. Luckily, “a general openness to product trial among RTD drinkers mean the
latecomers have not completely lost out.”2
All we had to do was break through the (extremely competitive) noise and get RTD drinkers excited about the
Mike’s Hard brand. While our competition was doing the same. And new players joined the segment on a
seemingly weekly basis.
The RTD category is driven by younger consumers. Four in ten hard seltzer drinkers are 25-343 – but there is
definitely still room to grow. Of the younger (aged 22-24) consumers who say that they don’t drink RTD alcoholic
beverages, 33% say that “they are not for someone like me” – the most cited reason among the group.4
It’s a fair comment – when you look at the typical RTD advertising, it’s all about influencers and lifestyles that
feel unobtainable. The category is all about perfectly posed pictures and a general lack of personality. No
wonder younger consumers didn’t feel represented.
To bring new consumers in, we focused our marketing efforts on a segment the category was completely
ignoring – young dudes who don’t want to take themselves too seriously.
With only $30,000 to work with, engagement was key because we had to get our target to do some of the heavy
lifting on Reach and Awareness for us. But our true KPI was to use that $30,000 wisely. We didn’t want to waste
a single penny – and because this was going to be the only marketing for the brand at the time, every dollar we
spent had to help drive sales of this new product.
Our campaign objectives:
Efficiently drive trial of the new Mike’s HardER Sparkling Water
Overachieve Net Revenue Projections by a minimum of 20%
Mike’s was late to re-enter the RTD sector, so we set out from the beginning to overachieve on our
sales objectives, knowing we already had to play catch-up.
1-4 & Chart 1: Mintel, RTD Alcoholic Beverages, 2019
Insight & strategic thinking
Mike’s saw an opportunity to revive its past success with a new product but needed to evolve the brand to keep
up with the times. They had to reach a younger audience and shed the skin of being “my dad’s hard lemonade.”
The category competition is mostly aimed at women and aims for a sophisticated tone. So, our strategy was to
do the exact opposite: go after dudes and be as immature as possible. Like our target, we didn’t want to worry
about what people thought of us or about having the ‘perfect’ Instagram shot. We just wanted to have fun. And
with a 7% ABV compared to the competition’s 3-5%, we went all in on partying Hard.
The last time Mike’s did any advertising in Canada, there was no social media. Now, with Instagram being our
target’s #1 most used social channel (Chart 2), we had to create the brand’s first Instagram account. Somehow,
we had to get the brand to make a big splash, starting from the ground up. Our extremely tiny budget meant we
had to get people talking about Mike’s Hard and use word-of-mouth to spread awareness that the brand was
back while driving trial.
Chart 2: Statista, Percentage of social media users with accounts on selected social media platforms in Canada
as of April 2020, by age group, 2020
We knew we had to get people talking about the brand. We decided to bring Mike’s unapologetically immature
attitude to the most serious event happening in the country and hijack the 2019 Canadian Federal Election.
First, we created our own political party: The Hard Party.
Then we launched the party by putting out a call for applicants to be our leader – the first Hard Party Prime
Minister. We thought if grassroots political campaigns can elect actual politicians with their tiny budgets – we
could surely find ours. And obviously their name would be Mike.
We asked our target to show us why they would make a good PM by tagging us on a video on Instagram. Once
we had all of our applicants, we had a random draw to select our 12 finalists – and posted a photo of each
finalist on our owned, organic Instagram account. The rest of the campaign was an organically-driven campaign
where each finalist would have to spread the word about their bid to become Hard Party Prime Minister and get
the most ‘votes’ (Instagram likes) on their photo on our page.
We gave the finalists all the tools they’d need to campaign for themselves: “Vote Mike” campaign materials, a
Speech Generator to help them make empty campaign promises, an oath for our PM to recite when we
eventually swore them in, stickers, Instagram bios, organic videos to post on their pages, and more.
Our small budget was one of the driving factors of choosing to make our campaign primarily based on organic
shares – but so was the need to connect with this target in a more authentic way. We wanted to show them that
we speak their language, understand their media platforms, and can create fun, engaging experiences that
people actually want to be a part of.
Our election campaign was a complete success, delivering the following results:
We efficiently drove trial of the new Mike’s HardER Sparkling Water. For each dollar our campaign spent,
Mike’s earned $29.
With a total campaign budget (media, production) of $30K, Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water sold over 68K 6-
packs following our campaign launch.
We overachieved Net Revenue Projections by 98%, indexing at 490 compared to our goal of 20%.
Unfortunately, with no official PR and the candidate social campaigns taking on lives of their own, tracking our
true earned impressions and engagements wasn’t possible. We do know that in just two weeks our finalists, and
their friends and networks, shared posts about our brand over 2600 times. Using a very conservative
assumption and the average Instagram follower count of 150 (though some of our candidates had far, far more
than that) – our earned impressions were 390,000 at an absolute minimum.
All results are from Internal ABI sales data
Mike’s Hard had been sitting pretty for the better part of a decade – the last time it advertised in Canada,
there really was no social media. With the RTD category exploding, Mike’s had to get 20-something
Canadians to engage with and care about the brand. We set up Mike’s Instagram account and launched a
campaign that drove the type of engagement and brand love that the world’s biggest brands only dream
about – turning new consumers into brand advocates. We efficiently drove trial and engagement, resulting in
a ROI of $29.
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Source: WARC Awards for Effectiveness, Entrant, Instant Impact, 2021