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Thought Leadership

How Monster Energy Won Cultural Relevance Without Traditional Advertising

A picture of a Monster Energy tattoo from one of their loyal fans who have helped drive growth for the brand.

Companies that are able to build fandom around their brands gain tangible ROI through long term brand preference. Research shows brand preference directly improves profitability, price premiums, cash flow and market share. Case in point, Monster Energy. Monster has dialed in their marketing, skipping TV ads and traditional advertising, instead tapping into fans across adrenaline pumping sports like UFC, motosports, music and sponsorship of outspoken athletes like Lewis Hamilton and Conor McGregor. But they didn’t stop there. They then fueled these niche audiences with relevant content and experiences that resulted in turning the brand into a cultural force, giving 562% return to investors over 10 years while creating hardcore fans of their own.

Fandom is an ecosystem that is always in motion, growing and changing. To build it, you have to understand its unique dynamics, from the individual to the communal. Monster realized this early on and in a move that gives real meaning to the marketing buzzword, “authenticity”, they staffed their marketing team with people who were a part of the motorsports, action sports, e-gaming and music communities. The manifesto on their website says, “At Monster all 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.” And by doing so, they have a deeper understanding of these fans, from the nuances in the language used to the clothes worn. Fan’s possess a code often hidden to outsiders, something we talked about in Decoding Fandom –  that reinforces social dynamics like who’s an insider and who the key influencers are. 

Monster brings their aggressive, rebellious and edgy personality to music fans as well.  The Outbreak Tour is a great example of how they used their rebellious personality as an entry into music. They partnered with concert promoter, Idol Roc, to create a live music tour, building a lineup around a breakthrough artist and surrounding that artist with other up and comers. The tour has multiple iterations, tapping genres like Hip Hop, Country, EDM and Rock. When each version of the tour hits a city, Monster is featured across all the media surrounding the event. And in cities with a strong college presence, they met fans where they are, on campus, creating a contest that pitted colleges against each other to see which wanted a concert the most. Each college appointed representatives to manage their entry and mobilize the student body, building hype on campus. This gave the student community the ability to add their take to it, creating authenticity and demand which fueled ticket demand.

But regardless of what a fandom focuses on, one of the defining features of fandom is deep passion. Fans are deeply devoted to their chosen affection, rewarding brands with their enthusiasm.  As noted in our latest report, fans are more likely to stay loyal to a brand that they love, but, what they really want to do is make that brand a visible and enthusiastic part of their life. When we asked what they are more likely to do when they are a fan of a brand, fans said that they would stay loyal to it over time, talk to friends and family about it, wear it, display it, show it off, and try its new products and services. Monster Energy fans are no different. They often engage in activities such as collecting cans, designing new cans and other fan art, and participate in online discussions. These activities allow fans to explore the world in new and creative ways, and to connect with other fans who share their enthusiasm. Their best fans post pictures of their tattoos inside these online communities, showing the brand’s logos and cans on their bodies. True to what they call a  “waste not, want not” marketing strategy, Monster shares these images on social feeds to honor their biggest fans. They also give back to their communities through philanthropic efforts for retired athletes and military veterans. 

Monster Energy has proved that creating a community through its own values and way of life, then allowing the community to advocate on their behalf, is a more effective marketing strategy than mass media advertising. Proof can be seen in the growth of the brand and its stock price. Monster has generated a 562% total return for investors over the past 10 years, outperforming the tech-focused Nasdaq Composite index which delivered a 260% return over the same period. That’s impressive for any business and reflects their revenue growth.

What can marketers learn from Monster? The big takeaways are:

  • Wherever your brand team already has personal expertise is where you can start building fandom for your brand, as long as there’s a natural extension. Monster structured hiring around this, but you can start with what you have in place.  
  • Relevant music may be your gateway to connect with existing fandoms or bridge from one fandom into an adjacent one. When examining fans’ passion for music, we observed in our research surprisingly little variation by age or gender. It was the one thing everyone could agree on. 
  • If fans start to run with your brand, let them. Monster created an opportunity that put the power in the hands of college fans, knowing that fandom is an act of communal co-creation. It’s a social dialogue in which anyone can tell the fandom story in their own words. For brands, giving up control to such a process can feel uncomfortable. But when fans take your brand and put their own unique spin on it, it’s the truest sign of their buy-in, which Monster saw in their ticket sales. 

If you are not sure where to start, we can help you and your team with:

  • A one day Fandom Essentials Workshop which provides your team with inspiration and an action plan to start building fandom or your brand.
  • Insights that unlock the emotional codes for fandom, from individual to culture.
  • Creative campaigns that spark a fandom’s energy to launch your next product or service.
  • Content-led stories and experiences that enrich fans’ worlds.