Mike’s Hard Invades Premium Category

Mike’s Hard is about to get harder.

The Mark Anthony Group, known for its Mike’s Hard Lemonade, is entering the premium malt cocktail category. The company will allocate some of its $36 million 2006 marketing budget to promote its new products, Mike-arita (9.9 percent alcohol by volume versus 5 percent for Mike’s Hard Lemonade) and Mike’s Hard Frozen Lemonade (11.9 percent abv), which launches around Memorial Day with sampling efforts.

The two new products are made with a patented technology that renders the malt base tasteless and odorless. Mark Anthony marketers hope the process will distinguish Mike’s premium malt beverages because they don’t have the taste burn of premixed liquors. Packaging and p-o-p for the ready-to-drink Frozen Lemonade SKU tout “blender and ice are not included” and the Classic Lime Mike-arita extension exhorts consumers to “chill in the fridge and enjoy over ice.”

TV ads for the new drinks break next week—via McCann Erickson, San Francisco—offering, in Mike’s unpretentious way, a trade-up without the hassle of using mixers and liquor. A new round of “Cold. Hard. Refreshing” TV spots features the now-familiar Mike’s Hard Lemonade talking bottle auditioning contestants for the role of spokesmodel. Among the wacky candidates interviewed in rough cuts are bikini-clad babes, a talking mime with a rubber chicken, and an old man wearing swimsuit briefs and a drinking helmet.

Measured media spending last year was $9.3 million, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

The Mike’s team is urging retailers to stock Mike-arita and Mike’s Hard Frozen Lemonade in the beer section rather than with the mixers, claiming it will be an incremental purchase for imported brew fans. Research by Meridian Consulting, Columbus, Ohio, found that 63 percent of shoppers would buy flavored malt beverages if they were displayed next to beer.