Schoolchildren rejoice, and then grab your parents’ credit card! You can now buy Recess on the internet! …KIDDING. Recess is carbonated water infused with hemp extract (specifically, 10 mg of CBD) and adaptogens that retails for $40 an 8-pack. It is most assuredly for adults.
But at the same time, it isn’t really a seltzer. You can buy a liter of seltzer for 99 cents at any grocery store or gas station if you want something to slake your thirst. Recess takes 5+ days to arrive by mail. Recess isn’t so much for thirst but for… everything that “recess” represents. Nostalgia. Joy. Freedom. And Recess earnestly acknowledges that it isn’t really selling a beverage. The website proudly proclaims, “We canned a feeling.”
The New York Times wrote a very entertaining piece about the evolution of the millennial aesthetic from ironic to treating ironic things so earnestly that it isn’t clear that there’s any irony at all. (See exhibit A: Astrology. Is its exploding popularity… real? Is it ironic? Does it matter? And who could forget the extremely germane exhibit B: Adult Preschool.) And the total brand package from the name to the colors, fonts, and social media totally embraces this earnest irony. But we’re here to talk about the name Recess—and what a name it is!
Recess (the free period, aka everyone’s favorite class) happens in the the glorious afternoon, a respite from care and obligation. A time to stretch ones legs and go unsupervised. It’s a daily activity—which I’m sure Recess the bev would love for you to mimic as well. The beverage also shares a name (which is, btw, fine from a trademark perspective in this case) with a beloved late 90s TV cartoon, a fact undoubtedly not lost on most of this drink’s quenchers.
And the most interesting branding decision to me was the fact that Recess has no literal branding link to wellness, despite the prominent wellness ingredients (CBD oil and “adaptogens for balance and clarity”) and the fact that it sold at a price point that clearly suggests it is a health and wellness product.
And I think there are at least three good reasons for this brand positioning, and the name that arose from it.
1. Branding around wellness is evolving. The past few years have seen a boom in wellness products, and rightly so, as the market gets saturated, brands need to evolve to stay fresh. Recess gets to wellness subtly. There is a nice resonance between the care-free, outdoor liberation evoked by recess and the aims of many wellness products: relieving stress and freeing one from the physical and mental constraints caused by it.
2. CBD oil specifically has gotten a lot of press about how nebulous and, well, unproven its health benefits are. If science continues to be skeptical of it—or even find it to be unhealthy—best to not hitch your horse to that cart completely. If CBD oil goes away, the beverage can live on.
3. Recess broadens the group of people who may seek out the beverage. It allows people who aren’t primarily seeking a wellness product to feel good drinking a Recess. The joy and innocence that consumers seek grabbing a Coke can be redirected toward Recess (more easily than it can be directed to, say, a clearly wellness-oriented drink like kombucha). Some people want a sweet pick-me-up in the afternoon. Some people want caffeine. Some people just want a break from their shift as a desk jockey. Recess offers something for all of those people, and in a way that maintains room for the act of consumption to lie in the earnest irony zone that the New York Times identifies. By that I mean…
Are you drinking it earnestly, because of the health benefits? Sure!
Or because CBD comes from weed, and that’s kinda funny? Yup!
Or are you ironically drinking it because paying 5 bucks for a can of weed oil and seltzer delivered by FedEx is pretty much a caricature of your generation? I’ll admit, yes!
Or, just because you saw it on Instagram and liked the packaging and branding? Totally!
The name/brand allows for it all.
The market has validated Recess’s position with a number of copycats already emerging. Daydream, a Canadian company, has picked up on the brand’s tone and personality, color scheme, and even site design. But the New York-based Recess is not overly concerned, “We’re bigger than the beverage” Recess founder and CEO Benjamin Witte said to AdWeek.
Apparently so. Recess fans alerted the company to the copycats before they even went on the market.
Millennials—who have probably seen and heard an average of 100 ads per day every day for their entire lives—don’t often take to things that seem too targeted at them or too straight-edged and self-important. They like vintage clothing. Record players. Mason jars. They like to discover things, like La Croix, PBR, and Pumpkin Spice novelties. And that makes creating new products and marketing and branding for that generation (my generation, btw) kind of challenging.
The brilliance of Recess is that the name says to millennials: we get your aesthetic, we get your impulses and needs, and we’re creating a product that is both sincere and ridiculous, nostalgic and contemporary, which allows you to drink it ironically or earnestly or anywhere in between.