Don't be an average Joe, be a Gay Joe

HARTWALL, Helsinki / HARTWALL / 2018

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Finns are among the top cider drinkers per capita in the world. However, the cider category is decreasing, and it is difficult to stand out for cider brands. Especially when alcohol advertising is heavily restricted: alcohol brands are not allowed to use traditional advertising, or even directly activate public through social media.

Happy Joe, one of Finland's leading cider brands wanted to reach out to consumers in a market first: by taking a stance and supporting equality and HBLTQI rights during Finland's biggest party for equality, Helsinki Pride.

Our objectives were to:

1. create positive brand image on social media during a contested time when many Finnish companies want to show their support to equality.

2. become the top choice alcohol brand among Finland’s leading influencers and consumers during Helsinki Pride.

3. do all this without traditional advertising due to strict regulations on alcohol advertising.


What to do in a situation when an alcohol brand wants to celebrate equality, but alcohol advertising is severely restricted and annual Pride festivities are already saturated with companies’ and brands’ rainbow-coloured profile pictures and flags?

When advertising was out of the question for Happy Joe, we used the one thing we had: the product. We launched a limited-edition rainbow bottle with Gay replacing Happy in its label. Why Gay Joe? Because gay means happy, also in the dictionary.

We wanted the Gay Joe bottle to become the message and people to become our media. Through only changing a cider bottle label, we aimed to stir up conversation and share the message of happiness, love and equality.


Happy Joe’s most important target group, the Millennials, are a demographic beyond the reach of traditional media. Yet print is the only allowed channel for alcohol brands to advertise in Finland.

Millennials are less price sensitive and put experiences over materia. And one experience they crave above else is a sense of meaning. They want companies to drive positive societal change, which has become an increasingly important criteria of choice for Millennials. Their active, self-expressive, urban lifestyle puts pressure on FMCG brands as their products should both fit their lifestyle, be extremely convenient and contribute to their goals by aligning with their values and supporting their sense of self.

It has proven very difficult for companies to connect with Millennials. We took up the challenge and drove their engagement by creating both shared value and a product that provided an easy way to express support for equality and HBLTQI rights.


A little less than two weeks before Helsinki Pride, bottles of Gay Joe went on sale in twenty select bars and at one grocery store in central Helsinki. Because of the strict laws on alcohol advertising, we had to rely on social media and word of mouth to tell people about Gay Joe’s arrival.

Before the bottles hit on-trade and off-trade channels, we sent samples of Gay Joe to 40 of Finland's leading influencers. In addition, we ran four sponsored posts on social media and pitched the news to media. When a limited-edition batch of 12 000 bottles arrived in Helsinki, the crowds were already eagerly awaiting.

To ensure product visibility on social media on the Helsinki Pride parade day, we organised a special brunch for key influencers supporting equality and HBLTQI issues. More than 70 influencers joined us to show their support.


Without any paid collaboration, in a country with only 5,5 million inhabitants, Gay Joe reached 500,000 individual followers through dozens of hand-picked top influencers, as well as on-trade and off-trade partners. Estimated thousands of consumers shared Gay Joe’s message on social media (public social media accounts add up to ca. 1 500 individual users).

Key media wrote stories about Gay Joe, reaching ca. 1,090,000 Finns. Earned media reached ca. 4,200,0000 after one influencer disapproved companies’ involvement in Pride, but other influencers stood up by using Gay Joe as a positive example. The feud was picked up by the media, amplifying Gay Joe’s visibility.

By changing just its label, Happy Joe provided an easy way to stand for love and equality and got Finns wish Happy Pride with a little rainbow bottle of cider. And what happened to Gay Joe? It was sold out two days before the big party.

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