llicit Elixirs Founder Jason Gaboriau On Promoting 'Happy Hedonism'


A beverage brand co-founded last year by a marketing veteran is aiming to disrupt its category with an irreverent identity and a “healthy dose of happy hedonism.”

One of the newer entries in the functional beverage category -- projected to grow at an annual rate of 8.6% to $333.6 billion globally by 2030, according to Zion Market Research -- Illicit Elixirs launched last year. The brand leans on attention-grabbing “maximalist” design and marketing to aid its message of promoting dopamine (the “happy hormone”) production. Illicit launched with four punny flavors demonstrating its approach: Late Night Fruity Call, Let’s Party Peaches, Vegas Debauch-A-Berry, and Watermelon Thirst Trap.

We drilled down further with co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Jason Gaboriau, a veteran of creative agencies such as CPB and Doner.



This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CPG Insider: How did the brand launch, and what was your marketing approach?

Jason Gaboriau: Illicit Elixirs launched last October. The plan was to launch on ecommerce channels first, including Amazon and Walmart. From there, we initially focused on launching in retail outlets in Las Vegas, and then decided to expand to California, Chicago, Illinois; and South Carolina.

For ecommerce, we’re working on using the programs within the platforms, with activations across video content, banners, and search.

Our marketing plan is centered on paid marketing social with fun creator content and brand videos, as well as a lot of in-store sampling. Point-of-sale is important for us: we really want people to try the product.

We had a vision for the brand to be a maximalist brand in its advertising, marketing, and design. This age of minimalism in the packaging we were seeing for other brands is great, but it didn’t reflect what our brand was about. We wanted it to feel like a fun party, to be irreverent and engaging.

The brand name and branding are suggestive of mind-altering effects. Were there any concerns that some consumers might be confused about the nature of the product?

Originally, we did want to call it “Dope,” which we ultimately felt really was confusing, and could lead consumers to think this was a THC or CBD product.  Our marketing is to really educate the closer you get to the can: we’re giving a lot of credit to consumers that they’re going to engage first. If you look at the label especially, there’s a reason the Illicit Elixirs part is in the band around the can, and the front of the can is the face mascot and the flavor name. We want the face to draw you in, and for the main thing you see to be the flavor name.

We wanted the brand to represent a different ideological perspective, in opposition to years of pleasure-shaming. We want to be the non-judgemental brand that represents that it’s okay to go out and do the things you love. So that connects to the flavor names, and the use of functional ingredients that support dopamine production.

The dopamine-supporting ingredients fall into the nootropic area, but the brand also stands for something more about lifestyle, fun, and flavor. It’s perfect for the health club -- or the night club.

A lot of brands in the category wouldn’t want to be associated with drinking. Can you elaborate on the connection there?

While designed to be enjoyed on its own, it’s also formulated to be enjoyed with alcohol: we wanted to make sure that it paired well with peoples’ favorite spirts. We would love to be a go-to mixed drink for people, like the next vodka and Red Bull. We see a lot of potential in partnerships, and would love to partner with the right alcohol or CBD brand.

Who are the consumers you’re most trying to reach, and how is that reflected in the brand design and marketing?

Our vision is to be a very inclusive brand and the 18-35 demographic is our core consumer, across genders. We call the smiling character on the front of the can “The Mayor." don’t know what gender the mascot is, it’s  just a symbol of smiling, and happiness, and that’s what we want to stand for.

We want to be a pop culture brand. Our ideal future would be as the Ben & Jerry’s of Gen Z. The plan for the first year is to educate on the brand, the product, and its dopamine-supporting ingredients, in a way that brings people in, that’s fun, and employs a cheeky tone.

Can you speak to issues around communicating product claims related to health or wellness, and avoiding over-promising or misleading claims?

When it comes to functional beverages, you have to make sure  what you’re saying can be backed up by real science, or a lot of people -- the FDA included --  will call you out on it. It’s important to us that we weren’t including ingredients that aren’t FDA approved, and we wouldn't use ingredients if we couldn’t get sourcing information.

We developed a product which includes ingredients proven to enhance dopamine production in the body – meaning that it can help your body produce more dopamine, not that it will automatically inject dopamine into your system -- working with a neurologist to ensure we had ingredients which backed up the statement. We’re still being conservative about what we claim about the functional ingredients.

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