Every now and then you come across an ingenious idea that stops you in your tracks.

It’s so damn brilliant you can’t help but sit in envy hoping your next spark of creativity generates something half as good.

This is how I felt the first time I heard the story of how Marshmello became famous. In fact, his entire story is a masterclass in branding, marketing strategy, and product launch.

So how did Marshmello become famous?

The year was 2015.

Chris Comstock was like anyone else. An individual with a talent and a dream to turn it into a career.

It just so happened that his talent was a seemingly endless amount of skill for electronic music. And his timing for marketing this talent was perfect. Everyone in their mother was attending festivals and listening to the latest EDM hit on their morning run.

But becoming a famous DJ at this time was nothing new. Plenty have done it before Marshmello and plenty will continue to do so after him.

What makes this story so compelling is the unique opportunity that his now agent, Moe Shalizi, recognized in Chris and the music environment as a whole to do something different.

This is where things get interesting

Moe sits Chris down and maps out the typical path of a DJ.

They create a couple of hits, become famous, get wrapped up in that fame, and eventually fall out of the public eye.

The duo had a desire to avoid this and came up with an idea.

Instead of being a person, what if Chris became a brand.

An image.

A movement that could connect with millions while remaining untested by the temptations of ego and fame by hiding his face behind a helmet.

So this is exactly what they did.

They landed on the name Marshmello inspired by his mellow beats and hired a guy that made his first helmet out of a rolled yoga mat.

The brand was born.

Now, they just needed to get the product, his uplifting music, in front of his target audience.

A shoestring budget breeds creativity

Dance music lives on Soundcloud. Every week, Moe began releasing one of his songs on the platform and Marshmello started gaining some traction.

But they needed to take things to the next level. With very little money for marketing, they started brainstorming how to make the biggest splash.

Coachella, the world-famous music festival that is full of millions of Marshmello’s target audience, was right around the corner.

Just one problem, Marshmello was not on the festival lineup that year.

So they took a gamble. For $5,000, they invested in the below billboard placed on the highway exit that festival attendees take to go to Coachella.

The billboard that made Marshmello famous
The billboard that made Marshmello famous

Everything about the billboard was an act of marketing genius. From the copy to the placement, the strategy required a deep understanding of the audience that attended the festival.

In 2015, it seemed like every girl you followed on Instagram wanted to be a lifestyle influencer thanks to the rise of influencer marketing. And every lifestyle influencer was putting up #sponsored post for detox tea. So everyone was doing it and the trend quickly turned into a bit of a joke.

Moe knew this would make their target audience laugh and in doing so get their attention to learn more about their product, Marshmello, and his music.

The billboard went viral.

And the best part, everyone was on their own mission to figure out who was behind the helmet. This amplified the reach of his music even further turning the advertisement into a colossal success.

Great creative and perfect placement is a winning combination

The launch of Marshmello, the brand, was one of the greatest creative endeavors in marketing history. I know, high acclaim, but for the amount of business their $5,000 investment drove (now worth north of $40 million), it’s hard to argue.

So what can we learn from this?

Well, when you have a product you believe in, but a small budget, start thinking outside the box. And always, always, study your target consumer so deeply that by the end, you know them better than they know themselves.