Monster Energy’s Sponsorship Marketing Lessons For Challenger Brands

Monster Energy is the best performing NASDAQ stock in the last 15 years. It seems Monster is living up to its reputation for high-octane performance on its balance sheet, too.  This classic challenger brand is poised to take over Red Bull, the energy drink category leader that had a 15-year head start.

Monster Energy aims at young male hipsters with laser precision. Considering I’m a 50-year-old married father of two whose hipster days are done, I really shouldn’t know much about Monster’s marketing efforts.  But I know a lot about what Monster’s up to because I’m a lifelong Supercross fan. I’ve traveled the country following the Monster Energy Supercross series and that always includes a full weekend at my home track at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. You’ll find me elbowing my way through the pit area among the thousands of young guns checking out their favorite riders, teams and machines.  The Supercross series is like fly paper for interested 18-34 year-old-males, otherwise known as the Great White Buffalo of American demographics. Finding these dudes in appreciable numbers through “lean back” media is difficult at best and a fool’s errand at worst. You can blow a big ad budget with little to show for it if you’re relying on the Supercross series is like fly paper for interested 18-34 year-old-males, otherwise known as the Great White Buffalo of American demographics. Finding these dudes in appreciable numbers through “lean back” media is difficult at best and a fool’s errand at worst. You can blow a big ad budget with little to show for it if you’re relying on Nielsen to point the way to young men.That’s why Monster, with annual sales near $3 billion, spends less than $1.5 million annually on measured media. Of course, that doesn’t mean Monster isn’t spending money on its brand. In fact, they’ve made a huge investment. But unless you happen to be into motorsports or action sports their marketing efforts are likely to be lost on you. That’s too bad because every time I participate in a Monster Energy Supercross event I’m flabbergasted by the constant evolution of the effort and just how right they get it. There are a lot of great sponsorship marketing lessons to be gleaned from this classic challenger brand, but here are the three I consider to be most important:

Of course, that doesn’t mean Monster isn’t spending money on its brand. In fact, they’ve made a huge investment. But unless you happen to be into motorsports or action sports their marketing efforts are likely to be lost on you. That’s too bad because every time I participate in a Monster Energy Supercross event I’m flabbergasted by the constant evolution of the effort and just how right they get it. There are a lot of great sponsorship marketing lessons to be gleaned from this classic challenger brand, but here are the three I consider to be most important:

There are a lot of great sponsorship marketing lessons to be gleaned from this classic challenger brand, but here are the three I consider to be most important:


1. Know your customers. OK, this is marketing 101, but how many marketers have a truly intimate appreciation for the lifestyle of their customers and the best places for connecting with them? I’d argue the number of marketers who genuinely understand their customers is far fewer than those who do. The evidence for that assertion is all around us. Marketers talk a good game when it comes to understanding their customers, but I rarely see that understanding result in the kind of authentic customer connection Monster has managed to create. There are a lot of reasons for this, including the nearly universal corporate impulse to be all things to all people. Monster knows the minute the brand drifts from its hyper-narrow focus on young men it will lose all credibility with them. So they don’t drift – unless, of course, it’s a sanctioned drifting event. Monster is a brand led by disciplined marketers. They only sponsor events that are as singularly focused on their young male audience as they are.

2. Be big somewhere. This sage old advertising adage can be traced to a book published back in 1977, but it seems many marketers are still trying to figure out what it means. Just look at the example Monster sets. They don’t just show up at venues with banners and t-shirts, they show up, move in and establish residency.  They not only sponsor the sport of Supercross, for example, they participate with their own race team. The Monster Energy Kawasaki team is the most successful Supercross team in recent history and that’s no happy coincidence, either. Monster plays to win on its home field.

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3. Attend an event. Unfortunately, I can’t begin to do their effort justice with a simple blog post. Instead, any marketer interested in learning more about what a thoroughly immersive brand experience looks like should attend a Monster Energy event and simply watch. Depending on your personal interests this may take you completely out of your comfort zone, which is always a healthy exercise for marketing professionals. In a nutshell, this beverage brand knows what engagement looks like, and they’re constantly working to make the experience even better for fans.  And, the fans love them for it.

4. Pick the right partners. So, you know your customers and you’re committed to owning something important to them. Now you want to create the kind of next level engagement that Monster enjoys. The critical move here is to pick the right partner. Feld Entertainment is Monster’s partner for the Supercross series. Feld’s been running the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus since 1967, so they know a little something about keeping crowds on their feet. I have no knowledge of the inside relationship between Monster and Feld, but the marriage works perfectly for fans. The pairing has all the outward earmarks of a highly collaborative, imaginative and energized partnership. There’s simply no way two organizations can pull off the kind of magic that is Monster Energy Supercross without radical alignment on goals and expectations. What’s the lesson? Look past the crowds your potential partners deliver and evaluate their capacity for offering truly unique ideas for connecting your brand to the fans – your customers. And when you find the right partner be sure to bring as much to the table as they are. Monster didn’t just write a check to make Monster Energy Supercross happen.

The old joke in the marketing is that we get all the blame and none of the credit.  But when a challenger like Monster Energy takes a rocket ride to the top there’s little doubt about the source of the fuel taking them there. It’s challenger brand thinking at its very best.

Mike Sullivan is president of LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency. For more information on challenger brands subscribe to BARK! and read these recent posts:

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