Every alcohol brand advises you not to drink and drive, but only one has advised its fans not to drink and play with a blowtorch.
If you spend any time on the E!, People or CBS Sports websites, you might have already noticed an illuminating video, served up as branded content, from the folks at Mike's Hard Lemonade. (You can see it at the bottom of this article.) The video shows a ginormous birthday cake, slathered with yellow frosting and wholly ablaze: There are 50,151 candles sunk into the icing, and all of them are lit.
This might be a good time to clarify that Mike's is not 50,000 years old. In fact, the flavored malt beverage brand hit the shelves in 1999, making this just its 17th year.
But the burning cake was still a birthday marketing stunt—one so big it wound up breaking a Guinness world record. This is the story of how it happened.
An idea is baked
A few months ago, Mike's creative director Kevin Brady was sitting down with his four-person creative team trying to figure out what to do about the brand's approaching birthday. The idea of a cake seemed pretty lame, at first. "Seventeen candles on a cake looks pretty weak," Brady thought. "We need more."
That's when Brady's team decided to ask the company's Facebook fans how many candles they thought should be on the cake. Around the same time, the team happened to notice that the standing world record for the number of lit candles on a cake—set in 2008 by the followers of Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy—was 48,523. That's when the team decided that along with staging a highly visual stunt, they would try to break a world record in the process.
"Help us celebrate Mike's birthday and break a Guinness World Record title for most candles on a cake!" read the brand's Facebook post. "We'll add a candle for every like!"
It was a gamble. While Mike's Facebook fan base stood at well over 1 million, Brady had no idea if enough of them would respond. "That's the social pitfall," he said. "It was two full weeks of sweating bullets. Only when we got 50,000 likes were we confident we were going to break it."
A day before the planned stunt, Brady stopped the count. It stood at 50,151—1,628 candles over the standing world record.
Lighting the cake
Of course, an obvious hurdle remained: fitting so many candles on a cake and getting them all burning at once. Fortunately, Mike's events partner, the L.A.-based BeCore, had some experience staging oddball stuff like this. In 2015, for example, it created the world's largest cheese sculpture—a 1,524-pound cheeseburger—for the Melt Shop restaurant chain.
The Mike's team found all the sheet cakes it needed—72, when all was said and done—at the local Costco, and BeCore set up folding tables in its back lot to form a giant square. "We figured out that it would take one person for every four cakes, working from the inside out to be able to light the candles," Brady said.
Even so, a 2 ½-inch birthday candle doesn't burn long. Speed was essential, and that ruled out matches. Only propane blowtorches would do.
"There was no guarantee this was going to happen," Brady says. "It was trial by fire—for real."
In the end, with a Guinness adjudicator looking on and staffers with fire extinguishers standing by, all the candles got lit. When the Los Angeles Fire Department put the kibosh on the idea of blowing them all out with a leaf blower, Brady's team resorted to fire extinguishers, which gave the cake a certain tang once the team cut into it and began eating.
"The cake tasted great," Brady said, "even singed, covered with wax and flavored with a little fire extinguisher."
After the fire
"What makes this so exciting and special is the unique, unconventional way Mike's chose to celebrate its 17th birthday," adjudicator Christina Conlon said in a statement, "by enlisting its fans to help the brand make history."
Which is true. But better still, the lit cake resembled a small brush fire, which is exactly the sort of conflagration Brady's team wanted—the sort that spreads on the internet. Following the video's April 21 posting on Mike's YouTube channel, the brand is now distributing the footage via branded content providers Jun Group and Sharethrough to major news and entertainment sites including Rolling Stone and Us Weekly. The push runs until May 23.
Was Mike's corporate office a little concerned, perhaps, about an alcoholic beverage brand posting a video showing people playing with blowtorches? "We felt OK with it," Brady said. "We were torching responsibly."
In fact, the video features a slide that clearly reads, "Don't Drink and Torch."