Monster Energy drinks is… well… a monster, at least when it comes to building Brand Love. Monster is currently valued at $27bn on the NASDAQ and, at times, has been more profitable per employee than Apple.
To symbolise the love that consumers have for the brand, hundreds of fans have tattooed the Monster logo, and in one case the actual can (see photo), on their bodies for life to show their loyalty to this ‘lifestyle in a can’.
Monster has grown its market share from nothing to become the market leader in the US market, surpassing its rival, big-spender Red Bull and it did so without investing a penny on advertising.
The brand has been rolling out across the world to similar success to become the global challenger to the one that gives you wings. So, how did David manage to beat Goliath against all the odds?
Well, traditional advertising agency led marketing focuses on resource intensive launches e.g. media buying, expensive campaigns and in-store promotions, which produce a tangible but very short-lived spike in sales and brand awareness because there is limited emotional engagement. By contrast, Monster operates under a “waste not, want not” credo, investing all of its resources into cultivating brand love by converting their target market into fans who then go on to influence and recruit mainstream customers.
Monster’s success lies in its ability to get the right people on board and to leverage those people’s own networks to create influence within the markets they target. In other words Monster found their ecosystem.
Ecosystems are natural, authentic networks based on real-world scenes. Each ecosystem has its own protocol, from the language used to the clothes worn. These networks possess a code often hidden to the outsider that reinforces social dynamics like who’s “in”, who’s “out” and who the key influencers are. Wherever your people already have networks is where you need to start building your brand.
The Monster ecosystem lives within the Motorsports, Action Sports, E-Gaming and Punk Rock scenes. These are shared with Red Bull, but Monster brings a more aggressive, rebellious and edgy personality to life. They realised this early on and made a concerted effort to curate a marketing team of people who dwelled within these ecosystems – from journalists to artists and ex-athletes.
As its manifesto says on its Facebook page: “At Monster, all of our guys walk the walk in action sports, punk rock music, partying, hangin’ with the girls and living life on the edge. Monster is way more than an energy drink. Led by our athletes, musicians, employees, distributors and fans, Monster is a lifestyle in a can!”
It’s what EARN chief creative officer, Jamal Benmiloud, who was the former leader of the marketing teams at both Red Bull and Monster, calls “story being” rather than “storytelling”.
“We are now applying what we learned in the energy drinks world to help our clients move from telling fictional stories to being the story. It’s hard work, but much more rewarding from a commercial point of view. Consumers don't have to just "like" your brand, they can love them. And the good news is that it's neither expensive or exclusive to cool cutting-edge brands. Brand Love is as achievable to all brands. Whether you're an airline, a bank or selling energy drinks.”
In our book “Brand Love: How to build a brand worth talking about” we detailed case studies of brands doing it right; brands well-adapted to the digital age; brands that can build billion dollar market caps without significant sums spent on advertising; and brands that defy the expectations of both investors and their category by breaking all the rules.
Jamal Benmiloud is the co-founder of Earn Studios and previously led the marketing teams at Monster Energy and Red Bull. This piece was written after Benmiloud spoke as a delegate on board the Aurora as part of the Marketing Forum.
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"It was one of those marvelous, once in a lifetime things," said Carl Sperber, creative director at Living Essentials. "Now we're being copied by some of the biggest beverage brands in the industry."
Indeed, both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have released energy shots, as have Monster, Red Bull and Arizona. The category is expected to nearly double this year to $400 million wholesale, up from $210 million a year ago, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. Still, 5 Hour Energy, which launched in 2004, is the undisputed leader in the field, controlling roughly 70% of the market and expected to top $320 million in sales this year, almost double its sales of $170 million last year. The ubiquitous 2-ounce, red-capped bottles can be found in retailers as diverse as Walmart, Home Depot, Dick's Sporting Goods, OfficeMax, Kroger, Duane Reade and GNC.
Mr. Sperber said there's still plenty of room for growth, especially among women, who have been more apprehensive about trying the product. "There's something spooky about it to them," he says. "Because an energy drink brand has never tried to communicate with this working adult demographic, we're trying to reassure them it's a safe product, something useful and not a fashion statement."
To do that, the brand will begin doing more sampling, particularly at work places. And commercials, which make up the bulk of the brand's $60 million advertising budget, focus on education. "It's an old fashioned Procter & Gamble message. Here's the product; here's the features; here's the benefits," Mr. Sperber said. "We're not going after the teenage boys. They're the last people on earth that need more energy. It's guys like me in their 40s who need it."