Putting Your Brand on the Front Page – Lessons from Red Bull

Red Bull Air Force - people in wing suits flying in formationThe recent passing of Thai billionaire and Red Bull co-founder Chaleo Yoovidhya got me thinking about the world’s most recognizable – and profitable – energy drink. In 2010, Red Bull posted revenue of $5.1 billion. This considerable sum came from the consumption of 4 billion cans of the drink that “gives you wings.”

Red Bull’s success paved the way for numerous imitators with energetic names like Monster, RockStar, Full Throttle and Amp. Not long on nuance, energy drinks don’t attract similar snobbery among drinkers as coffee, tea or wine do. Energy drinks don’t sell for their taste (you might say they sell despite it). Instead, they sell on image.

From working man to Superman with the Red Bull brand

Written accounts peg Yoovidhya coming from humble beginnings, working hard for most of his 80 to 90 years (there’s some variance among his reported birth dates). Yoovidhya’s consistent dedication made up for little-to-no formal education. The New York Times documents him he starting a small pharmaceutical company in the 1960s. TC Pharmaceuticals later developed energy “tonics” aimed at laborers and truckers trying to simply get through long work days.

In the early 1980s, while working in sales for the German household products company Blendax, Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz discovered the natural Asian “tonics” available in Yoovidhya’s small pharmacy. While the pair made a mutually beneficial deal to manufacture Red Bull, Mateschitz is responsible for the extreme success of the Red Bull we know today.

“Way Back Home,” Red Bull Stratos 2012 and A-1 of the Miami Herald

Rather than spend its budget on traditional beverage industry media like TV or outdoor advertising, Red Bull went guerilla to put its brand and cans in the eyes and hands of its most likely drinkers: 18 to 34 year-old-males. These guerilla marketing tactics went underground, made the drink just edgy enough to grab the attention of their target user, subtly and flawlessly executing on Wing 1 of the Dragonfly Effect model.

Whether rolling in a Red Bull car handing out branded freebies at an extreme event, or riding on a BMX through Scotland, the brand marketing strategy translates to “We are with you and one of you,” rather than “Buy this because it’s awesome.”

If you are not among the 19 million viewers of Red Bull’s “Way Back Home” video of Scottish rider Danny MacAskill, watch it now and se if you can spot:

  • Subtle branding that grabs attention
  • An everyman theme
  • Engagement with the audience
  • High production quality without an overproduced look

True to its laser-like focus on brand recognition, Red Bull’s 2011 – 2012 marketing strategy states intent to increase awareness among the 35 to 65 crowd, both male and female. Regardless of whether you fall into its first or second target demographic, Red Bull now has two questions for you:

  1. Ever dreamed you could fly?
  2. Ever wanted to be an astronaut?

Whether you answered yes to one or both of these questions, the drink that “gives you wings” has an answer for both. Red Bull Stratos 2012 will take skydiver Felix Baumgartner to the edge of space for a 13,000-mi 120,000 ft jump. And the Red Bull Air Force, which made page A-1 of the Miami Herald this year for its four-city, simultaneous Leap Year base jumps. It’s no coincidence that in both cases, the athletes making the news are in their 40s.

In addition to engaging emotionally with both its original and second target demographics, Red Bull subtly invites both to take action and fulfill the biggest dreams they’ve ever had. This strategy employs wings three and four of the Dragonfly Effect model without ever making it obvious. Instead, the strategy is to make life exciting and fun, no matter what a person’s age.

From extreme sports to brand loyalty

To distill the remarkable success of Red Bull’s strategy, consider these four concepts:

  1. Consumer engagement through sportsmanship, heroicism and ideals
  2. Viral videos depicting feats of athleticism and bravery – evoking the rush people seek from drinking the product
  3. Brand recognition through logo saturation
  4. Attainment of widespread brand recognition and loyalty first among a core demographic, then carefully building a credible bridge to achieve it in another

For its engaging creativity, and the savvy cultivation of and integration of the Extreme Sports movement, Red Bull leads the category in brand marketing strategy. And now, if you’re more artist than athlete, simply apply to the new Red Bull Music Academy. Yes, the brand plans to appeal to every dream.

Consider your marketing strategy: Who’s your target consumer, and how much does your brand appeal to them? Is that consumer as engaged with your product, as he is focused on a favorite athlete, a favorite Everyman?

If you can’t answer these questions, it may be time to get your team of marketing heroes together and take flight for the outer limits of your collective imaginations. That’s where you’ll find the most exciting facets of your product or service, the qualities that can create brand loyalty and truly engage consumers. Now go for it — grab their attention. In a word: jump!

  • http://davidaaker.com/ David Aaker

    Terrific story.  I am impressed with how many shared interest areas that Red Bull has developed with their audience, must be over 100.  Look at their web site.  I know of no other brand that has connected with customers so many ways. 

  • Earl Veale

    I enjoyed the story very much, but I believe there is one factual inaccuracy. The Stratos 2012 event is from 120,000 feet which is about 23 miles high. The article indicates the jump as being from 13,000 miles. (at 1000 mph, it would take him 13 hours to reach the bottom).

  • http://www.dragonflyeffect.com/blog/authors/andy-smith/ Andy Smith

    Earl – Thanks very much for spotting the typo. I love the idea of a 13 hour freefall, but at that altitude, well above the ISS’s orbit, getting hit by a GPS satellite seems more likely!

    • leon

      you have eaten your words!

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  • João Miguel Castro

    Red Bull is one of the most successful cases of a brand which grew due to a massive intelligent marketing strategy. Without that the brand would be only known in Austria and Thailand at best. Through marketing and sui generis advertising campaigns, Mateschitz made an ordinary mix of sugar and trace amounts of cafeine and taurine, turn into a 5 billion dollar best seller compared to a miraculous pharmaceutical mind and body enhancer.

  • http://mandalaweb.co.il/ שיווק אינטרנטי

    smart idea. well manage