Mike’s Harder Grows Up (a Bit) in Ads That Explore the Night’s Possibilities

Creative shift comes with new distribution plans

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When your brand starts to mature, your advertising needs to follow suit, even if your name is Mike’s Harder and you’re targeting millennial dudes who are all about hot chicks, wild parties and bro bonding.

The last major ad campaign for Mike’s Harder was so chock full of dick jokes and over-the-top sight gags (think pitched tent, pool noodle) that even the brand’s execs admit it was a bit juvenile.

That was the intent. (There are laughs to be mined from garden hoses and molded clay.) But things have changed at the premium malt beverage. Mike’s Harder is on the verge of new distribution in supermarkets, outside its home base of convenience stores, and “needed a strategic shift,” says Sanjiv Gajiwala, vp of marketing.

New ads take a provocative route with flashes of private jets, underground skate parks, clandestine poker games and hook-ups with cougars.

Whether the switch is subtle or profound is a matter of perspective, but it’s the brand’s way of “connecting emotionally” and continuing to differentiate itself from its competitors and its flagship beverage, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Gajiwala says.

Mike’s Harder is spending twice the marketing dollars it did last year, he says, with sampling and music-based live events in several cities to go along with the digital spots from Los Angeles-based Battery.

The work, under the tagline, “What’s out there starts here,” peeks behind a series of doors with different people, places and things revealed, like an Eyes Wide Shut cloak-and-mask scenario, a rowdy rave and a glamorous middle-age woman canoodling with a thrilled young dude.

“They’re snippets of what’s possible in someone’s night,” Gajiwala says.

According to the agency, “the campaign is all about finding how deep the rabbit hole goes, making gutsy choices and literally opening any door you choose.”

Despite heavy competition and “an onslaught of innovation” in the category, Gajiwala says, Mike’s Harder remains a top seller in what’s often referred to as “alcopop,” flavored beverages that are more potent than beer.

The brand, traditionally reliant on single-serve at stop-and-go retailers, has grown 14 percent annually. January will mark its first appearance in multipacks in grocery stores, for which the new campaign aims to “stake out a unique space.” The ads will continue through the quarter on digital platforms like Hulu and social media.

@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.