Inside Recess’s first in-person marketing event since the pandemic

Marketing Brew sat down with Recess execs to chat about diving back into events, the company’s influencer marketing strategy for the campaign, and its sentiment-driven approach to advertising.
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· 5 min read

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“Find out if your date got Pfizer or Moderna. If it’s a match, start planning your wedding. This is how we date now,” reads a piece of dating advice in Recess’s new zine, which doubles as a “Guide to Re-Entering Society” post-lockdown.

This weekend, Recess will open a pop-up store in Nolita to give away the guide...and many a can of Recess bevvies, of course.

  • Within the zine, artists like Brian Rea, illustrator for The New York Times’ Modern Love column, and New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck depict very 2021 instructions for navigating a restaurant, dating again, going to parties, and getting dressed.
  • The rag isn’t exclusive to Manhattanites. It’s also being distributed at local stores in LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Nashville + comes with every drink purchase on the brand’s site.
  • Recess is promoting the event and corresponding zine across its social media channels, primarily Instagram.

Marketing Brew sat down with Recess founder and CEO Ben Witte, Director of Brand Marketing Andrew Courtien, and Creative Lead Thatcher Jensen to chat about diving back into events, the campaign’s influencer marketing strategy, and the brand’s sentiment-driven (versus data-driven) approach to advertising.

Pop goes the lockdown

The Recess pop-up might be one of the first IRL events we’ve written about this year, but it’s far from thefirst one happening in NYC. Courtien said Recess knew the time was right to reenter the real world because, well, non-marketers—like the organizers of The Governors Ball and Coachella—did it first.

“You started seeing ticket sales moving and things selling out. People really want to get back out there and the fear has been mitigated because of the vaccine, rightfully so, because science is amazing, so people seem eager,” Courtien told us. He added that Recess chose New York City as the location for its first foray back into IRL events not only because it’s Recess’s home turf, but also because of comparatively high vaccination rates in the city.

“We're certainly not the Foo Fighters at Madison Square Garden, but easing into this was important to do as soon as it was safe,” he shared, adding that event marketing is an important part of the Recess brand.

He explained that, in beverage marketing as a whole, getting “cans in hands” is integral. The team first saw event marketing pay off back in 2019 with its Recess IRL pop-up retail store in Manhattan, an Instagram-worthy space for drink sampling in the shadows of brand-colored neon lights. “We definitely saw a major uptick in retail sales in New York City coinciding with the launch of IRL,” Witte said.

Courtien called Recess IRL an “earned media juggernaut,” and hopes the zine-themed pop-up has the same effect. He described Recess’s latest experience as “a very hokey and funny way to actually make good on the zine’s promise of being a guide to reentering society.”

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“It would be weird if it was only digital and we were just keeping people behind their screens,” he joked.


Within the zine’s glossy pages and IRL pop-up shop is a hidden marketing strategy: an influencer campaign, to be specific. The company intentionally chose to work with artists like Finck (582K IG followers) and Rea (32K IG followers) who both bring large, engaged followings to the table.

“If we can introduce [the zine creators] to a new audience and then they can introduce us to a new audience, there's a mutual benefit of both audiences wanting to know and respect each other,” Courtien told us.

Recess asked the artists who worked on the campaign to post about it on their personal Instagram channels, but didn’t get caught up in the details. For instance, Courtien said the contracts didn’t ask them to use specific copy, and even left the posting date up to them.

“It’s not just a CPM, it’s a relationship,” Courtien added. Recess paid its influencers for both the posts and their work. Jensen told us that creative people are Recess’s core audience, so it made sense to have the zine’s artists also act as the campaign’s influencers.

“Red Bull has extreme athletes, Gatorade has formal athletes, [and] we have creatives, who we see as our ambassadors and ‘athletes,’” Courtien said.

“We’re a feelings brand”

In most stories about marketing campaigns, acronyms like KPI and ROI get thrown around like pizza dough in Italian restaurants. Not this one. “There are no hard and fast KPIs here,” Courtien explained. “We’re a feelings brand.”

Witte told us that Recess’s marketing strategy is almost entirely based on sentiment rather than data. “This type of marketing, generating buzz, it's not perfectly measurable. It's something you can feel, when people are talking about it and sharing it on Twitter and stuff like that. We don't have any specific numbers in mind,” Witte said.

Recess does what Witte described as a “light” amount of performance marketing, tracking cost per acquisition across paid media and affiliate marketing. It also tracks customer retention via its active DTC subscriptions. But Witte told Marketing Brew that Recess mostly focuses its efforts on loftier brand marketing plays like this one.

Recess spent somewhere between $10,000 and $40,000 on the campaign in question, per Witte, who didn’t share an exact figure. He said brand awareness campaigns ultimately translate to “retail sales velocity” for its products.

“The truth is, when Recess is on the shelf, it sells very well. We can't tell you specifically why that is other than we've created a lot of awareness for the brand. People try it, people enjoy it,” Witte said.

The numbers say he’s...not wrong. Recess’s total business is currently up 300% year over year (YoY). Its e-commerce business grew 600% YoY, and its retail business increased 250% YoY, Recess shared with Marketing Brew.

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