Red Bull Gives You Wings? The Extraordinary Marketing Behind the Energy Drink Business Model
"That's what drives us" - Since 1987
Inspired by functional drinks from the Far East, Dietrich Mateschitz founded Red Bull in the mid-1980s. He developed a new product as well as a unique marketing concept and launched Red Bull Energy Drink in Austria on 1 April 1987. A completely new product category - the energy drinks - was born.
Since 1987, around 80 billion cans have been sold worldwide. The expansion of Red Bull from tranquil Fuschl am See is impressive.
In 2016, sales exceeded the six billion euro mark for the first time. What marketing is behind this Brand? What is the secret of the success of "Didi" Mateschitz, who is sometimes even mentioned in the same breath as greats like Steve Jobs?
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing & Marketing! 4 Pillars of Red Bull's Business Model
Target Group Marketing
Red Bull is now able to address a wide variety of target groups. The original target group was consumers with energy deficits, such as athletes.
As far as age is concerned, the target group addressed by Red Bull is consumers between 20 and 30 years of age. Surprisingly, the drink experienced additional hype in this group when it began to be offered in clubs, nightclubs and discos as so-called Vodka - Bull, in itself a contradiction to the original image of an "energy donor". Nevertheless, this created another important market for this product.
In addition, especially people who work at night, have to stay awake for a long time or have to concentrate for a long time consume this drink. The focus here is particularly on truck and long-distance drivers, shift workers or people in management positions.
If you look at Red Bull's homepage or press releases, you will not find any reference to specifically addressed age or target groups. The beverage producer rather distances itself from segmentation criteria such as age, purchasing power and place of residence, not least in order to be open at all times for the development of further potential consumers.
Dietrich Marteschitz set the course early on to sell not just a drink with his product, but an experience, a very special feeling and emotions in connection with sport. The company wants to appear young, dynamic, modern and sporty and to tell you with the drink that you can do anything as soon as you drink a can of Red Bull. Red Bull's most famous advertising slogan is "Red Bull gives you wings", which is exactly the message it wants to convey to us.
In the beginning, Red Bull sponsored modern trend sports in the field of extreme sports and was thus able to win over many young athletes. The brand image was quickly built up and strongly consolidated. Events and sports events with "cool" and young target groups, such as surfers, skaters and BMX athletes, were specifically selected. After the first important step was taken and the brand was established in the scene and society, Red Bull was able to take the next big step. The company entered the mainstream sports sector in addition to sponsoring extreme sports. The beverage producer even bought two Formula 1 racing teams in addition to football clubs and an ice hockey club. Now the brand could appeal to an even larger mass and there was hardly anyone left in the world who did not know the name Red Bull.
Red Bull recognised early on that classic media such as radio, print media and television were not the appropriate platforms for promoting their product and immediately turned to the so-called "new media" such as the internet. The goal here is always that a potential customer consciously or unconsciously engages with the product. Exactly this effect is most easily achieved on the internet by means of networking and interaction between different users.
The brand should spread virally (like a virus exponentially) in society, comparable to word of mouth, which is where the name viral marketing comes from. Of course, this form of marketing requires a certain momentum that can only be controlled to a certain extent.
However, through skilful and targeted application, the Red Bull company was able to directly influence the reputation of its brand among consumers.
Red Bull is a clear pioneer of content marketing. The energy drink itself is only a small division of the company. The company itself is already more of a successful and influential media house than a simple beverage producer.
A major reason for this is that Red Bull delivers exceptionally good journalistic content and puts it in the spotlight.
The art of content marketing is to "engage with existing or potential customers through quality online content without immediately asking them to buy products or services."
This worked so well for Red Bull that the company was even able to stop spending a lot of money on TV commercials and now only produces a few and very low-cost ads for TV.
Nevertheless, good content marketing requires the production of different and, in particular, attractive content for the target groups to be addressed. So the company decided to found its own Red Bull Media House GmbH. There, own Red Bull magazines and own TV formats are produced.
The best known of these are the channel "Servus TV", which was still owned by Red Bull at the time, and the magazine "The Red Bulletin".
Red Bull is heavily criticised by many experts for its controversial, sometimes aggressive marketing strategy. In their view, the energy drink manufacturer is responsible for numerous deaths caused by performing dangerous stunts in the course of sporting events and film shoots or by imitating them.
In 2009, Canadian ski base jumper Shane McConkey had an accident during Red Bull filming. The 39-year-old did not manage to open his parachute in time under the prevailing extreme conditions and died at the scene of the accident.
The proximity flyer (wingsuit) Eli Thomsen belonged to the Red Bull Air Force, a so-called elite stunt unit. During the shooting of the film "Human Flight 3D", the American flew into a mountain at 180 kilometres per hour and died instantly. Afterwards, there were many imitators who put extremely risky stunts on the net or at least intended to do so, and there were also deaths and injuries.
A few weeks later, the very experienced base jumper Ueli died. He jumped from the almost 90-metre-high Sunrise Tower in Zurich for advertising purposes. Despite bad weather conditions, he dared to jump, a gust of wind caught him, he was thrown onto the edge of the building and hit the ground without braking. As with the incidents described above, there were rumours that sponsor Red bull had put massive pressure on the athlete to make him jump.
In 2013, the 25-year-old athlete Caleb Moore died during a stunt with a snowmobile at the world-famous "X-Games". Red Bull is the biggest sponsor of the event, which is often referred to as the Olympic Games of extreme sports. Caleb Moore died a short time later in hospital.
The motorcross rider Eigo Sato was celebrated and presented as the "X-Fighter" on the Red Bull homepage for a long time. What was not mentioned here was that the Japanese rider had already suffered a fatal accident. He died of his injuries after a fall during the preparations for the Red Bull Tour.
Even though in all these "accidents" Red Bull can presumably not be accused of any violation of applicable laws, the question of moral complicity may very well be asked.
In 2009, the drink was also in the newspapers with another unbelievable headline. Cocaine residues were found in the product "Red Bull Cola". Immediately, the drink was taken out of the assortment in several countries by the food supervisory authority. But only a few months later, the sales ban was lifted again almost everywhere.
Such headlines had a short-term negative effect on the company's image, but could not damage the long-term success of Red Bull. Red Bull accepts the death of extreme sports athletes in favour of powerful advertising and breathtaking films and videos. From the point of view of pure profit maximisation, this is obviously justified; the moral aspect is given little consideration here.
A unique idea, innovative strength, a clear goal, a concrete plan for achieving it, extremely consistent (sometimes ruthless?) implementation, the unswerving conviction to do the right thing despite headwinds and the indispensable "good feeling" for the market - these are the prerequisites for founding and building such a successful company.
Along the way, not all methods used live up to our general understanding of morality.
But success (doesn't) justify the means?