In 2012 Red Bull took a risk, something it has grown akin to doing.
The company spent an estimated $30 million (about 1/10 of their sports marketing budget) to fund daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile freefall jump from space. Yes, you read space correctly.
Four months later, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) confirmed that Baumgartner broke three official world records, and he became “the first person to break the speed of sound in freefall, without the protection of or propulsion of a vehicle.”
To further the event’s publicity, Red Bull launched live feeds on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, embracing social media platforms whilst in their early stages to widen the range of the audience. The live webcast alone hit 52 million views in 50 countries, making it the most-watched live stream ever at the time. Yet, Long before this momentous jump from space, Red Bull CEO Dietrich Mateschitz saw the value in Event Marketing. The company’s success didn’t come from the taste of its drink.
Before Red Bull
For Mateschitz, branding was always the #1 priority in business. For the company to launch an entirely new kind of product (energy drinks), Mateschitz had to find an alternative path towards popularity. He couldn’t sell Krating Daeng, the foreign, wonder drink from Thailand that cures jetlag without first westernizing it, carbonating it and developing a brand around it that fully captured what made it different.
Mateschitz was an adventurer at heart with a knack for exposure. His attitude made it possible for Red Bull to find its wings. Early on, he knew it was important to separate Red Bull from the pack of soda, coffee and juice brands. He pushed the company towards a unique, bad boy image. Why should Red Bull advertise like the others if it isn’t like the others? Within a couple of years, the company was at the forefront of western, youth culture. Since its conception, the brand has brought people to the product, not the product to the people. This philosophy is a natural byproduct of Mateschitz’s extreme lifestyle and what sets him apart as a marketer.
Before the official release of Red Bull, the first thing the company did was test its reach with event marketing on college campuses. Energy drinks weren’t popular and traditional advertising was expensive, so Mateschitz drew up a brilliant plan to pay student leaders to hand out free Red Bulls from their Red Bull-themed MINI Coopers. Students instantly took a liking to the effects of the funky drink, attributing its powers to productivity in the library and energy in the bars. As the drink quickly gained in popularity, Mateschitz began planning his next steps to take Red Bull’s event marketing to the next level.
Extreme Sports and Event Marketing
After a few years of successful market testing, Mateschitz officially launched Red Bull GmbH with co-founder Chaleo Yoovidhya, the creator of Krating Daeng. A year after the launch, Mateschitz took on his next task – Interactive Event Marketing. Teaming up with Olympic skier Werner Grissman, Red Bull sponsored the Dolomitenmann, a monster, team marathon event held in Lienz, Austria, which involved mountain running, mountain biking, paragliding, and kayaking. This annual event was quickly recognized as the unofficial World Cup of Extreme Sports. The first race had just 51 participants, but it was Red Bull’s first venture into extreme events, the path it would fully embrace in the coming years.
Although the Dolomitenmann garnered positive attention within adventurer circles, Red Bull needed to reach a wider audience. Mateschitz struck gold when he created the Red Bull Flugtag. This flying cart competition brought groups together to test their inner DaVinci and fly their fancy, DIY flight contraptions powered by muscle, gravity and imagination over a body of water. It also brought huge crowds, which meant more exposure to people unfamiliar of the brand. In 2012, the Flugtag held in Cape Town, South Africa drew a crowd of 220,000 people.
These two events were early demonstrations of the path Red Bull was blazing towards. Each year brought in new events and competitions, which in turn brought in new fans for Red Bull. Once revenues increased more steadily, Red Bull began sponsoring athletes, creating teams, and financing barrier-breaking stunts. Red Bull’s mission to make its energy drink synonymous with over-the-top events and feats was genius. As long as they could keep up their bad boy image, the crowds would flock to the events.
By the early 2000’s, Red Bull had become a well-oiled machine of ideas and execution, but Mateschitz was itching to create a worldwide, front page news event. He wanted to break a BIG barrier. The Stratos Jump was that event.
Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Team rigorously prepared the stunt for more than half of a decade. In less than 10 minutes, Baumgartner had landed, the entire spectacle was over, and history was made. This momentous jump spiked YouTube’s subscriber numbers from 300,000 to 2.5 million overnight.
Redbull’s Event Marketing Today
Since the Stratos Jump, Red Bull has continued tapping into the buzz with extreme sports, extreme stunts, music festivals, and pretty much anything else it can reach. Its high energy, high risk, high performance lifestyle image isn’t without its drawbacks, but in terms of exposure, Red Bull has never ceased to amaze. And, this is a testament to Dietrich Mateschitz’s philosophy.
In an interview with Fast Company regarding Red Bull, he explained,
“It is an invitation as well as a request to be active, performance-oriented, alert, and to take challenges. When you work or study, do your very best. When you do sports, go for your limits. When you have fun or just relax, be aware of it and appreciate it.”
Without Mateschitz’s full-throttle, hands-on approach to media, Red Bull wouldn’t have lasted. The world wouldn’t have watched Travis Pastrana fly a rally car 269 feet or skydive without a parachute live. The world wouldn’t have seen Robbie Maddison backflip in a car upwards off a ramp onto the famous Tower Bridge of London. Mateschitz created an entirely new drink market in the West, but more importantly, he created an entirely new culture. He has inspired the world’s youth to test limits and break barriers.
“Since the beginning it has been a brand philosophy and how to look upon the world, rather than pure marketing for consumer goods…” said Mateschitz. “The brand is supporting the sports and culture community, as well as the other way around.”
It seems a difficult task to up the ante from the Stratos Jump. The stunt itself has spun off a consequential ad campaign and a one-year anniversary documentary containing previously unseen footage. The Stratos jump reportedly increased both brand awareness and sales in the West while also helping growth in new markets such as South Africa, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France and Germany all seeing double-digit sales gains the year following the stunt.
But Mateschitz hasn’t taken his foot off the gas pedal, planning to develop a global media network which includes print, TV, mobile, music, and emerging media platforms. While a global media venture looks to be Red Bull’s steepest challenge yet, the company looks to lean on its plethora of events (like the Flugtag, the Red Bull Music Festival, and X-Fighters) to help build and promote its latest push into media. And they’ve already started looking towards the future. Instead of creating occasional “hits” that garner massive audiences once in a while, Red Bull is churning out consistent media from original web series to highlights of their intense competitions for viewers’ everyday consumption.
The original market of Red Bull from the 90s and 00s at this point knows the brand. Red Bull has always targeted individuals in their 20s, and since today’s 20-somethings consistently consume media, Red Bull is tailoring their entire media strategy towards building a new generation of Red Bull Devotees.
It’s working. According to Tubular Insights, Red Bull generated more than 2.5 billion views and 50.2 million engagements in 2016, making it the #1 most watched brand across platforms in 9 of 12 months of the year. It was #2 behind LEGO during the other three months. In 2015 (the most recent info available by Tubular Insights), Red Bull sold $6.6 billion worth of Red Bull, a direct product of their lifestyle brand advertising. While most companies today might not have the freedom of creating an entirely new market, there’s a lot to be learned from the massive growth attributed to Mateschitz extensive event marketing campaigns that have endured over the last three decades.