14 February 2019 Courier Feb/Mar 2019

‘Red Bull for the creative class’

Ben Witte’s plan has always been to sell more than just soda: when he launched Recess, he wanted to sell an idea that could inspire creative workers across the world.

The launch of Recess in October 2018 was meticulously executed. Instead of coming to market with a scrappy brand, the website was slick from the get-go and the product itself was beautiful, with duotone pastel packaging. Its Instagram feed was filled with highly stylised and mind-bending computer-generated scenes.

It’s a lot of messaging for a soda brand. One thing that’s barely mentioned, though, is the product’s main ingredient: CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient derived from cannabis, intended to make drinkers feel calm and collected.

‘Even bigger than [the soda] was this idea that [we’re living] in a world in which we’re all increasingly stressed out, anxious, overly stimulated, overwhelmed by technology, by politics, you name it, and are searching for solutions to feel balanced,’ Recess’s founder Ben Witte explains. ‘I saw this bigger opportunity to create a consumer wellness lifestyle brand [with a] mission to help people be their most productive and creative selves.’

Catering to creatives

It’s no coincidence Witte settled on making a product for this community: it’s one that he already belongs to, and he understands it inside out. ‘I’ve always been a creative guy that has dealt with anxiety, inability to focus and stress,’ he says.

He had started experimenting with CBD and noticed he was feeling more creative as a result – and less stressed. If it worked for him, he figured it could work for his friends, colleagues and other creatives dealing with the same issues.

Witte’s vision is for people to be chugging on Recess all day, the same way they might drink coffee. Witte also wants to launch CBD powder sachets, which can be added to coffees or smoothies and will be easy to carry around.

The content connection

Witte’s product plans are one thing, but any brand hoping to tap into a specific user base needs to communicate to them beyond the physical goods.

For Recess, this means investing heavily in creating content. The strategy is still taking shape (Recess is just four months old), but profiles of different creatives are in the works as part of a wider content offering that Witte describes as ‘Into the Gloss for creatives’ (referencing the beauty blog which Emily Weiss ran before launching her beauty brand, Glossier). ‘[This is] really a brand that’s by creatives for creatives,’ Witte adds. Instagram posts have also been designed to emphasise the idea of taking a moment.

Building a brand in this way isn’t cheap, of course. Witte says that Recess has raised ‘a couple million’ in VC funding and while he won’t reveal how much has been spent on branding, he’s certainly brought more partners on board than a small business would traditionally during its pre-launch stage.

So far, Witte has employed at least three New York-based agencies to bring Recess to life: Gin Lane (a brand builder which developed the initial identity), Day Job (a copywriting agency which manages Recess’s social media and packaging design) and The Couch (which takes care of website development and user experience).

Waiting for Coca Cola

For a business that’s peddling £4 cans of soda, this appears an expensive and convoluted strategy. Witte, however, argues that it will protect his business when the CBD drinks category inevitably explodes. Indeed, even Coca Cola is reportedly in discussions with Canadian producer Aurora Cannabis to create its own line of CBD drinks.

‘CBD is a commodity. It’s literally going to be put in everything. Cereal, ice cream, popsicles, candy, olive oil,’ he says. ‘[But] the big idea of Recess is Recess itself. We’re marketing this state of mind: calm, cool, collected. Not tired, not wired. I am someone who really believes in brands and creating a community around this mentality. So yes, there’s going to be competition from startups, from existing beverage companies, from incumbents, but I don’t worry about it. I fundamentally think it’s good for Recess – because the more people understand about CBD the more they’ll want to hire Recess for this specific job.’

So far, the strategy is working. Witte says in its first month, Recess sold 50 times as many cans of soda than it was expecting to.

For more case studies like this, purchase a copy of Courier’s Feb/Mar issue – featuring a 24-page step-by-step guide to launching a new business in 2019, filled with best practices, key questions, dos and don’ts and expert advice.