Meet Mike’s newest brand mascot, Lemon Buff

What do you get when you combine the physique and in-your-face persona of Ric “Nature Boy” Flair with the sartorial style of Randy “Macho Man” Savage?

Well, you get a character that Labatt Breweries of Canada is calling “Lemon Buff,” a gloriously over-the-top, leotard and kneepad-wearing, riding-a-can-into-outer space, lemon-crushing-with-his-bicep, shouty guy who is the face of its new RTD product, Mike’s Hard Iced Tea.

Lemon Buff is being brought to life in a new integrated ad campaign developed by Labatt’s in-house agency draftLine YYZ, and supported by a media plan from Dentsu Canada that includes TV, posters, GIFs, social posts and, new this year, signage behind home plate during Toronto Blue Jays telecasts. The brand will also make a return to events this summer after a lengthy absence.

He might not be the most cerebral character, but Lemon Buff is just the latest manifestation of the often irreverent marketing approach favoured by the Mike’s Hard brand, said Natalie Lucas, director of marketing, beyond beer at Labatt in Toronto.

“When you think about Mike’s as a brand, it’s anchored in comedy and nostalgia, so the team came up with a character who delivers on that and [the brand’s] full-flavoured personality,” she said.

“We tap into that nostalgic aspect of the brand quite often, and a wrestler just made sense when you think of the late ’80s and early ’90s [the heyday of the then WWF]. It’s just on the nose when you think of that era.”

Mike’s Hard Iced Tea is Labatt’s latest entry in the exploding ready-to-drink alcohol category, which is expected to grow by a CAGR of 15% through 2025, compared to an approximate 1% CAGR growth for total beverage alcohol.

According to data from Labatt Sales Intelligence, the hard iced tea segment of the RTD category grew by 35.2% last year, making it the second fastest-growing segment behind only soda and seltzer. Characterized by brands such as Twisted Tea and Labatt’s own American Vintage, tea drinks accounted for 14.3% of the total RTD space.

Lucas said that an analysis of the hard iced tea category found that lemon was one the key consumer preferences in the segment, making it a perfect fit with Mike’s Hard.  “It just felt so obvious, since nobody knows lemons better than the OG hard lemonade,” she said.

Labatt is also specifically testing new products in the Prairies—which tend to over-index on consumption of hard iced tea. It is launching a mixer pack in that region that, in addition to the lemon flavour, also includes peach and black cherry variants.

Chris Powell