Cheesy approach works for Mike's Hard Lemonade

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Just for a moment, let's make believe that Mike's Hard Lemonade is about a refreshing light-cocktail experience for grown-ups, and not about 16-year-olds leaning out of their '92 Camaros and puking on your curb.

OK? We can pretend. Mike's isn't the moral successor to Strawberry Hill or Southern Comfort or Boone's Farm or M/D 20-20 or Bartles & Jaymes or Zima. This "Lemonade With a Kick" isn't a starter drink at all. It isn't spiked bug juice.

It's an adult taste sensation, that's what it is.

Good. We're agreed. So, it's probably best to ignore Mike's oddly adolescent Web site, and its links to, ("Use the Cool-o-matic 3000 to convince everyone that your Spring Break was better than theirs!") and (home of the Frog in a Blender and Nanna Hooter, the old lady with the gigantic, dancing bosom).

Instead, let's focus on the TV advertising-the cheesy, grisly, goofy TV advertising. Well, here's the deal: The TV advertising is cheesy, grisly and goofy.

Also, it's cunningly good.

Three spots from Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, broadly parody the workingman's-reward ethic of traditional beer advertising, using a Zucker brothers sensibility. If "Police Squad" had had commercials, these would have been the ones. Each spot takes us to a workplace-a logging camp in one, a Sea World-like aquarium in another and a construction site in the third-where something dreadful happens to an employee. The lumberjack cuts his foot off with an errant ax swing. The aquarium worker has his arm eaten by a killer whale. And the ironworker falls from a girder, impaling himself on a length of steel reinforcing bar.

Nothing is meant to be realistic here; the effects are artificial-looking on purpose and there is no screaming, blood or any other cue to horror. In fact, the ostensible joke is how blase each victim and his supervisor are in the face of disfiguring injury. Such as when the hard hat gets up from the pile of scrap metal and finds the shaft of re-bar penetrating his torso.

"Hey," the foreman says, "looks like you got a little nick there."

"What this?" says the worker. "It's nothin'."

"Maybe we should get that looked at."

"Or maybe," the worker counters, "we should get a delicious Mike's Hard Lemonade, instead!"

"You're on!" the foreman says, as the two do a ridiculous little shadow-sparring dance of male bonding. Then, as the scene shifts to the compulsary barroom shot, the voice-over:

"A hard day calls for a Hard Lemonade. Make it Mike's."

That's funny in itself. As if there were any choice in alcoholic lemonade but Mike's. The real joke here isn't victim indifference. The advertiser is playing with the form. It's Kentucky Fried Beer Commercial, basically, with cartoonish takes on every silly gesture and dialogue triteness. Meanwhile, the blue-collar-reward storylines provide perfect cover for the real message-which is not "Yo, Joe Sixpack, here's an alternative to beer," but instead, "Hey, look at us! We're funny and cool, and if you get our jokes, so are you!"

That's a gambit that will work for the nominal 21-to 34-year-old "target audience," and that makes all the difference. The advertising had to stand up to the grown-up test, because-curiously enough-it will also delight those 16- to 21-year-olds who Mike's certainly doesn't wish to see illegally imbibing its product, lest they become roadway menaces or commence tragic lifetimes of alcohol abuse.

But we won't focus on them because this is a legal advertisement for a legal beverage, and we're sure underage drinkers were the furthest thing from the advertiser's mind. Because, as Buster Brown once said to the adult drinkers in its target audience, "It's fun to play pretend."

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